What does Gnosticism mean in the Bible?

Dictionary

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography - Gnosticism
Gnosticism. The zeal with which a learner commences the study of ecclesiastical history is not unfrequently damped at an early stage, when he finds that, in order to know the history of religious thought in the 2nd cent., he must make himself acquainted with speculations so wild and so baseless that it is irksome to read them and difficult to believe that time was when acquaintance with them was counted as what alone deserved the name of "knowledge." But it would be a mistake to think too disdainfully of those early heretics who go by the common name of Gnostics. In the first place, it may be said in their excuse that the problems which they undertook to solve were among the most difficult with which the human intellect has ever grappled—namely, to explain the origin of evil, and to make it conceivable how the multiplicity of finite existence can all have been derived from a single absolute unconditioned principle. And besides, these speculators only did what learned theologians have constantly since endeavoured to do—namely, combine the doctrines which they learned from revelation with the results of what they regarded as the best philosophy of their own day, so as to obtain what seemed to them the most satisfactory account and explanation of the facts of the universe. Every union of philosophy and religion is the marriage of a mortal with an immortal: the religion lives; the philosophy grows old and dies. When the philosophic element of a theological system becomes antiquated, its explanations which contented one age become unsatisfactory to the next, and there ensues what is spoken of as a conflict between religion and science; whereas, in reality, it is a conflict between the science of one generation and that of a succeeding one. If the religious speculations of the 2nd cent. appear to us peculiarly unreasonable, it is because the philosophy incorporated with them is completely alien to modern thought. That philosophy gave unlimited licence to the framing of hypotheses, and provided that the results were in tolerable accordance with the facts, no other proof was required that the causes which these hypotheses assumed were really in operation. The Timaeus of Plato is a favourable specimen of the philosophic writings which moulded the Gnostic speculations; and the interval between that and a modern treatise on physics is fully as wide as between Gnosticism and modern scientific theology. So it has happened that modern thought has less sympathy with heretical theories deeply coloured by the philosophy of their own time than with the plain common sense of a church writer such as Irenaeus, which led him to proceed by the positive historical method, and reject what was merely fanciful and speculative. And it may be said that deeply important as were some of the particular questions discussed in the conflict between the church and Gnosticism, an even more important issue of that conflict was the decision of the method by which religious knowledge was to be arrived at. The Gnostics generally held that the Saviour effected redemption by making a revelation of knowledge, yet they but feebly attempted to connect historically their teaching with his; what was derived from Him was buried under elements taken freely from heathen mythologies and philosophies, or springing from the mere fancy of the speculator, so that, if Gnosticism had triumphed, all that is distinctively Christian would have disappeared. In opposition to them, church writers were led to emphasize the principle that that alone is to be accounted true knowledge of things divine which can be shewn by historical tradition, written or oral, to have been derived from the teaching of Christ and His apostles, a principle the philosophic justice of which must be admitted if Christ be owned as having filled the part in the enlightenment of the world which orthodox and Gnostics alike attributed to Him. Thus, by the conflict with Gnosticism reverence in the church was deepened for the authority of revelation as restraining the licence of human speculation, and so the channel was marked out within the bounds of which religious thought continued for centuries to flow.
We deal here with some general aspects of the subject, referring to the articles on the chief Gnostic teachers for details as to the special tenets of the different Gnostic sects.
Use of the Word Gnosticism. —In logical order we ought to begin by defining Gnosticism, and so fixing what extension is to be given to the application of the term, a point on which writers are not agreed. Baur, for instance, reckons among Gnostics the sectaries from whom the Clementine writings emanated, although on some of the most fundamental points their doctrines are diametrically opposed to those commonly reckoned as Gnostic. We conform to more ordinary usage in giving to the word a narrower sense, but this is a matter on which controversy would be only verbal, Gnosticism not being a word which has in its own nature a definite meaning. There is no difficulty in naming common characteristics of the sects commonly called Gnostic, though perhaps none of them is distinctive enough to be made the basis of a logical definition. They professed to be able to trace their doctrine to the apostles. Basilides was said to have learned from a companion of St. Peter; gospels were in circulation among them which purported to have been written by Philip, Thomas, and other apostles; and they professed to be able to find their doctrines in the canonical scriptures by methods of allegorical interpretation which, however forced, could easily be paralleled in the procedure of orthodox writers. If we made our definition turn on the claim to the possession of such a Gnosis and to the title of Gnostic, we should have to count Clement of Alexandria among Gnostics and I. Timothy among Gnostic writings; for the church writers refused to surrender these titles to the heretics and, claiming to be the true Gnostics, branded the heretical Gnosis as "falsely so called." If we fix our attention on the predominance of the speculative over the practical in Gnosticism, which, as Baur truly remarks, led men to regard Christianity less as a means of salvation than as furnishing the principles of a philosophy of the universe, we must allow that since their time very many orthodox writings have been open to the same criticism. We come very close to a definition if we make the criterion of Gnosticism to be the establishment of a dualism between spirit and matter; and, springing out of this, the doctrine that the world was created by some power different from the supreme God, yet we might not be able to establish that this characteristic belongs to every sect which we count as Gnostic; and if we are asked why we do not count such sects as the Manicheans among the Gnostics, the best answer is that usage confines the word to those sects which arose in the ferment of thought when Christianity first came into contact with heathen philosophy, excluding those which clearly began later. A title of honour claimed by these sectaries for themselves, and at first refused them by their opponents, was afterwards adopted as the most convenient way of designating them.
We have no reason to think that the earliest Gnostics intended to found sects separated from the church and called after their own names. Their disciples were to be Christians, only elevated above the rest as acquainted with deeper mysteries, and called γνωστικοί , because possessed of a Gnosis superior to the simple faith of the multitude. Probably the earliest instance of the use of the word is by Celsus, quoted by Origen, v. 61, where, speaking of the multiplicity of Christian sects, he says that there were some who professed to be Gnostics. Irenaeus (i. xxv. 5, p. 104), speaking of the Carpocratians and in particular of that school of them which Marcellina established at Rome, says that they called themselves Gnostics. It is doubtless on the strength of this passage that Eusebius (H. E. iv. 7), quoting Irenaeus in the same context, calls Carpocrates the father of the sect called that of the Gnostics. In the habitual use of the word by Irenaeus himself it does not occur as limited to Carpocratians. Irenaeus, in his first book, when he has gone through the sects called after the names of heretical teachers, gives in a kind of appendix an account of a number of sects in their general characteristics Ophite, but he does not himself use that name. He calls them "multitudo Gnosticorum," tracing their origin to Simon Magus, and counting them as progenitors of the Valentinians. And constantly we have the expression Basilidians, Valentinians, etc., "et reliqui Gnostici," where, by the latter appellation, the Ophite sects are specially intended. The form of expression does not exclude from the title of Gnostic the sects named after their founders; and the doctrine of the Valentinians is all through the work of Irenaeus a branch of "Gnosis falsely so called"; yet it is usually spoken of less as Gnosticism than as a development of Gnosticism, and the Valentinians are described as more Gnostic than the Gnostics, meaning by the latter word the Ophite sects already mentioned. In the work of Hippolytus against heresies, the name is almost exclusively found in connexion with the sect of the Naassenes or Ophites, and three or four times it is repeated (v. 2, p. 93; 4, p. 94; 11, p. 123) that these people call themselves Gnostics, claiming that they alone "knew the depths." The common source of Epiphanius and Philaster had an article on the Nicolaitanes, tracing the origin of the Gnostics to Nicolas the Deacon (see also Hippolytus, vii. 36, p. 258, and the statement of Irenaeus [1] that Nicolaitanism was a branch of Gnosis). Epiphanius divides this article into two, making the Gnostics a separate heresy ( Haer. 26). Hence ancient usage leaves a good deal of latitude to modern writers in deciding which of the 2nd-cent. sects they will count as Gnostic.
Classification of Gnostic Sects.—Some general principles of philosophic classification may be easily agreed on but when they come to be applied it is found that there are some sects to which it is not obvious where to assign a place and that some sects are separated whose affinities are closer than those of others which are classed together. A very important though not a complete division is that made by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iii. 5) into the ascetic and licentious sects: both parties agreeing in holding the essential evil of matter; the one endeavouring by rigorous abstinence to free as much as possible man's soul from the bondage to which it is subjected by union with his material part and refusing to marry and so enthral new souls in the prisons of bodies; the other abandoning as desperate any attempt to purify the hopelessly corrupt body and teaching that the instructed soul ought to hold itself unaffected by the deeds of the body. All actions were to it indifferent. The division of Neander is intended to embrace a wider range than that just described. Taking the common doctrine of the Gnostic sects that the world was made by a Being different from the supreme God he distinguishes whether that Being was held to have acted in subordination to the Supreme and on the whole to have carried out his intentions or to have been absolutely hostile to the supreme God. Taking into account the generally acknowledged principle that the Creator of the world was the same as the God worshipped by the Jews we see that Gnostics of the second class would be absolutely hostile to Judaism which those of the former class might accept as one of the stages ordained by the Supreme in the enlightenment of the world. Thus Neander's division classifies sects as not unfriendly to Judaism or as hostile to it; the former class taking its origin in those Alexandrian schools where the authority of such teachers as Philo had weight the latter among Christian converts from Oriental philosophy whose early education had given them no prejudices in favour of Judaism. Gieseler divides into Alexandrian Gnostics whose teaching was mainly influenced by the Platonic philosophy and Syrian strongly affected by Parsism. In the former the emanation doctrine was predominant in the latter dualism. Undoubtedly the most satisfactory classification would be if it were possible as Matter suggested to have one founded on the history of the generation of the sects distinguishing the school where Gnosticism had its beginning and naming the schools which successively in different places altered in different directions the original scheme. But a good classification of this kind is rendered impossible by the scantiness of our materials for the history of Gnosticism. Irenaeus is the first to give any full details and he may be counted two generations later than Valentinus; for Marcus the disciple of Valentinus was resisted by one whom Irenaeus looked up to with respect as belonging to the generation above his own. The interval between Valentinus and the beginning of Gnosticism was moreover probably quite as great as that between Valentinus and Irenaeus. The phrase used by Hippolytus in telling us that the Naassenes boasted that they alone "knew the depths" was also a watchword of the false teachers reprobated in the Apocalypse (Rev_2:24). We can hardly avoid the inference that these Naassenes inherited a phrase continuously in use among heretical teachers since before the publication of the Revelation. Of the writers who would deny the pastoral epistles to be St. Paul's a large proportion date the Revelation only 2 or 3 years after St. Paul's death; therefore whether or not it was St. Paul who wrote of the "falsely called knowledge," it remains probable that heretical pretenders to Gnosis had arisen in his lifetime. If the beginnings of Gnosticism were thus in apostolic times we need not be surprised that the notices of its origin given by Irenaeus more than a century afterwards are so scanty; and that the teachers to whom its origin has been ascribed Simon Menander Nicolas Cerinthus remain shadowy or legendary characters. It follows that conclusions as to the order of succession of the early Gnostic sects and their obligations one to another are very insecure. Still some general facts in the history of the evolution of Gnosticism may be considered fairly certain; and we are disposed to accept the classification of Lipsius and count three stages in the progress of Gnosticism even though there may be doubt to what place a particular sect is to be assigned. The birthplace of Gnosticism may be said to be Syria if we include in that Palestine and Samaria where church tradition places the activity of those whom it regards as its founders Simon and Menander. It may also be inferred from the use made of O.T. and of Hebrew words that Gnosticism sprang out of Judaism. The false teaching combated in Colossians which has several Gnostic features is also distinctly Jewish insisting on the observance of Sabbaths and new moons. The Epp. to Timothy and Titus dealing with a somewhat later development of Gnosticism describe the false teachers as "of the circumcision," "professing to be teachers of the law" and propounders of "Jewish fables." It is not unlikely that what these epistles characterize as "profane and old wives' fables" may be some of the Jewish Haggadah of which the early stages of Gnosticism are full. The story of Ialdabaoth e.g. told by Irenaeus (i. 30) we hold to date from the very beginning of Gnosticism if not in its present shape at least in some rudimentary form as fragments of it appear in different Gnostic systems especially the representation of the work of Creation as performed by an inferior being who still fully believed himself to be the Supreme saying "I am God and there is none beside me," until after this boast his ignorance was enlightened. The Jewish Cabbala has been asserted to be the parent of Gnosticism; but the records of Cabbalistic doctrine are quite modern and any attempt to pick out the really ancient parts must be attended with uncertainty. Lipsius (p. 270 and Grätz referred to by him) shews that the Cabbala is certainly not older than Gnosticism its relation to it being not that of a parent but of a younger brother. If there be direct obligation the Cabbala is the borrower but many common features are to be explained by regarding both as branches from the same root and as alike springing from the contact of Judaism with the religious beliefs of the farther East. Jewish Essenism especially furnished a soil favourable to the growth of Gnosticism with which it seems to have had in common the doctrine of the essential evil of matter as appears from the denial by the Essenes of the resurrection of the body and from their inculcation of a disciplining of man's material part by very severe asceticism. (See Lightfoot Colossians 119 seq.) Further the Ebionite sects which sprang out of Essenism while they professed the strongest attachment to the Mosaic law not only rejected the authority of the prophetical writings but dealt in a very arbitrary manner with those parts of the Pentateuch which conflicted with their peculiar doctrines. We have parallels to this in theories of some of the early Gnostic sects which referred the Jewish prophetical books to the inspiration of beings inferior to Him by Whom the law was given as well as in the arbitrary modes of criticism applied by some of the later sects to the books of Scripture. A form of Gnosticism thus developed from Judaism when the latter was brought into contact with the mystic speculations of the East whether we suppose Essenism to have been a stage in the process of growth or both to have been independent growths under similar circumstances of development. Lipsius notes as the characteristics of those sects which he counts as belonging to the first stage of Gnosticism that they still move almost or altogether within the circle of the Jewish religious history and that the chief problem they set themselves is the defining the relation between Christianity and Judaism. The solutions at which they arrive are very various. Those Jewish sects whose Essenism passed into the Ebionitism of the Clementines regarded Christianity as essentially identical with Judaism either religion being sufficient for salvation. These sects are quite orthodox as to the Creation their utmost deviation (if it can be called so) from the received belief being the ascription of Creation to the immanent wisdom of God. Other Jewish speculators came to think of the formation of matter as accomplished by a subordinate being carrying out it may be the will of the Supreme but owing to his finiteness and ignorance doing the work with many imperfections. Then came the theory that this subordinate being was the God of the Jews to which nation he had issued many commandments that were not good though overruled by the Supreme so as to carry out His ends. Lastly came the theory of the Cainites and other extreme Ophite sects which represented the God of the Jews as the determined enemy of the Supreme and as one whose commands it was the duty of every enlightened Gnostic to disobey. With all their variety of results these sects agreed in the importance attached to the problem of the true relations of Judaism to Christianity. They do make use of certain heathen principles of cosmogony but these such as already had become familiar to Syriac Judaism and introduced not so much to effect a reconciliation between Christianity and heathenism as to give an explanation of the service rendered to the world by the publication of Christianity the absolute religion. This is made mainly to consist in the aid given to the soul in its struggles to escape the bonds of finiteness and darkness by making known to it the supersensual world and awaking it to the consciousness of its spiritual origin. Regarding this knowledge as the common privilege of Christians the first speculators would count their own possession of it as differing rather in degree than in kind; and so it is not easy to draw a sharp line of distinction between their doctrine on the subject of Gnosis and that admitted as orthodox. Our Lord had described it as the privilege of His disciples to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; later when His followers learned of a suffering Messiah and of the fulfilment in Jesus of the types of the Mosaic law they felt that the veil had been removed for them and that they enjoyed a knowledge of the meaning of the O.T. Scriptures to which their unconverted brethren were strangers. This feeling pervades the Ep. to the Hebrews and still more that of Barnabas. Another doctrine which St. Paul describes as a mystery formerly kept secret but now revealed through his gospel is the admission of the Gentiles on equal terms with the Jews to the inheritance of the kingdom of Christ. It was no part of orthodox Christian doctrine that all Christians possessed the true Gnosis in equal degree. Some required to be fed with milk not with strong meat and had not their senses exercised by reason of use to discern between good and evil. Clement of Alexandria distinguished between faith and knowledge. The difference therefore between the Gnostic doctrine and that of the church mainly depends on the character of what was accounted knowledge much of the Gnostic so-called knowledge consisting in acquaintance with the names of a host of invisible beings and with the formulae which could gain their favour.
Gnosticism, in its first stage, did not proceed far outside the limits of Syria. What Lipsius counts as the second stage dates from the migration of Gnostic systems to Alexandria, where the myths of Syriac Gnosis came to be united to principles of Grecian philosophy. Different Gnostic systems resulted according as the principles of this or that Grecian school were adopted. Thus, in the system of Valentinus, the Pythagorean Platonic philosophy predominates, the Stoic in that of the Basilidians as presented by Hippolytus. In these systems, tinged with Hellenism, the Jewish religion is not so much controverted or disparaged as ignored. The mythological personages among whom in the older Gnosis the work of creation was distributed are in these Hellenic systems replaced by a kind of abstract beings (of whom the Valentinian aeons are an example) which personify the different stages of the process by which the One Infinite Spirit communicates and reveals itself to derived existences. The distinction between faith and knowledge becomes sharpened, the persons to whom faith and knowledge respectively are to serve as guides being represented as essentially different in nature. The most obvious division of men is into a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness. The need of a third class may have first made itself felt from the necessity of finding a place for members of the Jewish religion, who stood so far above heathenism, so far below Christianity. The Platonic trichotomy of body, soul, and spirit afforded a principle of threefold classification, and men are divided into earthly (ὑλικοί or χοϊκοί ), animal (ψυχικοί ), and spiritual (πνευματικοί ). In these Hellenic Gnostic systems the second class represents not Jews but ordinary Christians, and the distinction between them and the Gnostics themselves (who are the spiritual) rests on an assumed difference of nature which leaves little room for human free will. Salvation by faith and corresponding works is disparaged as suitable only for the psychical, the better sort of whom may, by this means, be brought to as high a position in the order of the universe as their nature is capable of; but the really spiritual need not these lower methods of salvation. It suffices for them to have the knowledge of their true nature revealed for them to become certain of shaking off all imprisoning bonds and soaring to the highest region of all. Thus ordinary historical Christianity runs the risk of meeting the same fate in the later Gnostic systems that befell Judaism in the earlier. The doctrines and facts of the religion are only valued so far as they can be made subservient to the peculiar notions of Gnosticism; and the method of allegorical interpretation was so freely applied to both Testaments that all the solid parts of the religion were in danger of being volatilized away.
The natural consequence of this weakening of the historic side of Christianity was the removal of all sufficient barrier against the intrusion of heathen elements into the systems; while their moral teaching was injuriously affected by the doctrine that the spiritual were secure of salvation by necessity of their nature and irrespectively of their conduct. Gnosticism, in its third stage, struggles in various ways to avoid these faults, and so again draws nearer to the teaching of the Catholic church. Thus the DOCETAE of Hippolytus allow of immense variety of classes, corresponding to the diversity of ideas derived from the world of aeons, which each has received; while again they deny to none a share in our Lord's redemption, but own that members of different sects are entitled, each in his degree, to claim kinship with Jesus and to obtain forgiveness of sins through Him. So again in one of the latest of the Gnostic systems, that of PISTIS SOPHIA, there is no assertion of an essential diversity of nature among men, but the immense development of ranks and degrees in the spiritual world, which that work professes to reveal, is used so as to provide for every man a place according to his works. In the system of Marcion, too, the theory of essentially different classes is abandoned; the great boast of Christianity is its universality; and the redemption of the Gospel is represented, not as the mere rousing of the pneumatic soul to consciousness of privileges all along possessed, but as the introduction of a real principle of moral life through the revelation of a God of love forgiving sins through Christ.
We add brief notes on a few main points of the Gnostic systems.
Creation and Cosmogony. —Philo (de Op. Mund. ) had inferred from the expression, "Let us make man," of Genesis that God had used other beings as assistants in the creation of man, and he explains in this way why man is capable of vice as well as virtue, ascribing the origin of the latter to God, of the former to His helpers in the work of creation. The earliest Gnostic sects ascribe the work of creation to angels, some of them using the same passage in Genesis (Justin. Dial. cum Tryph. c. 67).
Doctrine with respect to Judaism. —The doctrine that the Creator of the world is not the supreme God leads at once to the question, What then is to be thought of the God of the Jews, who certainly claimed to have created the world? This question is most distinctly answered in the doctrine of the Ophite system (Iren. i. 30). According to it he who claimed to be a jealous God, acknowledging none other, was led by sheer ignorance to make a false pretension. He was in truth none other than the chief of the creative angels, holding but a subordinate place in the constitution of the universe. It was he who forbad to Adam and Eve that knowledge by which they might be informed that he had superiors, and who on their disobedience cast them out of Paradise.
Doctrine concerning the Nature of Man. —With the myth, told by Saturninus, of the animation of a previously lifeless man by a spark of light from above, he connected the doctrine, in which he was followed by almost all Gnostic sects, that there would be no resurrection of the body, the spark of light being taken back on death to the place whence it had come, and man's material part being resolved into its elements. Saturninus is said to have taught the doctrine, antagonistic to that of man's free will, that there were classes of men by nature essentially different, and of these he counted two—the good and the wicked. The doctrine became common to many Gnostic systems that the human frame contained a heavenly element struggling to return to its native place.
Redemption and Christology. —The Gnostic systems generally represent man's spirit as imprisoned in matter, and needing release. The majority recognize the coming of Christ as a turning-point in human affairs, but almost all reduce the Redeemer's work to the impartation of knowledge and the disclosure of mysteries. With regard to the nature of Christ, the lowest view is held by Justinus, who describes Jesus but as a shepherd boy commissioned by an angel to be the bearer of a divine revelation, and who attributes to Him at no time any higher character. Carpocrates makes Jesus a man like others, only of more than ordinary steadfastness and purity of soul, possessing no prerogatives which other men may not attain in the same or even higher degree if they follow, or surpass, His example. Besides furnishing an example, He was also supposed to have made a revelation of truth, to secret traditions of which the followers of Carpocrates appealed. At the opposite pole from those who see in the Saviour a mere man are those who deny His humanity altogether. We know from St. John's epistle that the doctrine that our Lord had not really come in the flesh was one which at an early time troubled the church.
Authorities. —The great work of Irenaeus against heresies is the chief storehouse whence writers, both ancient and modern, have drawn their accounts of the Gnostic sects. It was primarily directed against the then most popular form of the heresy of Valentinus, and hence this form of Gnosticism has thrown all others into the shade, and many modern writers when professing to describe Gnosticism really describe Valentinianism. Irenaeus was largely copied by Tertullian, who, however, was an independent authority on Marcionism; by Hippolytus, who in his work against heresies adds, however, large extracts from his independent reading of Gnostic works; and by Epiphanius, who also gives a few valuable additions from other sources. The Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria, though provokingly desultory and unsystematic, furnish much valuable information about Gnosticism, which was still a living foe of the church. The writings of Origen also yield much important information. The matter, not borrowed from Irenaeus, to be gleaned from later heresiologists is scanty and of doubtful value.
Modern works which have made valuable contributions to the knowledge of Gnosticism include Neander, Genetische Entwickelung (1818), and Church Hist. vol. ii. (1825 and 2nd ed. 1843, trans. in Clarke's series); Burton, Bampton Lectures (1829); Baur, Christliche Gnosis (1835); Die christliche Kirche der drei ersten Jahrhunderte (1853, 2nd ed. 1860); and Mansel, The Gnostic Heresies (1875).
[2]
Holman Bible Dictionary - Gnosticism
(Gnuhss sh shssm) Modern designation for certain religious and philosophical perspectives that existed prior to the establishment of Christianity and for the specific systems of belief, characterized by these ideas, which emerged in the second century and later. The term “gnosticism” is derived from the Greek word gnosis (knowledge) because secret knowledge was so crucial a doctrine in gnosticism.
Importance of Gnosticism The significance of gnosticism for students of Christianity has two dimensions: the first is its prominence in the history of the church, and the second is its importance for interpreting certain features of the New Testament. Gnosticism emerged in schools of thought within the church in the early second century and soon established itself as a way of understanding Christianity in all of the church's principal centers. The church was torn by the heated debates over the issues posed by gnosticism. By the end of the second century many of the Gnostics belonged to separate, alternative churches or belief systems viewed by the church as heretical. Gnosticism was thus a major threat to the early church; and the early church leaders, such as Irenaeus (died about 200), Tertullian (died about 220), and Hippolytus (died about 236), wrote voluminously against it. Many of the features of gnosticism were incorporated into the sect of the Manichees in the third century, and Manichaeism endured as an heretical threat to the church into the fourth century.
Gnosticism is also important for interpreting certain features of the New Testament. Irenaeus reported that one of the reasons John wrote his Gospel was to refute the views of Cerinthus, an early Gnostic. Over against the gnostic assertion that the true God would not enter our world, John stressed in his Gospel that Jesus was God's incarnate Son. Other interpreters of the New Testament understand gnosticism to be crucial at many other points in interpreting the New Testament as will be discussed to follow.
Heretical Gnostic Sects The Gnostics who broke away or were expelled from the church claimed to be the true Christians, and the early Christian writers who set themselves to refute their claims are the major source for descriptions of the heretical gnostic sects. Although wide variations existed among the many gnostic sects in the details of systems, certain major features were common to most of them—the separation of the god of creation from the god of redemption; the division of Christians into categories with one group being superior; the stress on secret teachings which only divine persons could comprehend; and the exaltation of knowledge over faith. The church rejected such teachings as heretical, but many people have continued to find attraction in varieties of these ideas.
Gnostics generally distinguished between an inferior god whom they felt was responsible for the creation and the superior god revealed in Jesus as the Redeemer. This was a logical belief for them because they opposed matter to thought in a radical way. Matter was seen as inferior, sin-causing, and always deteriorating; thought or knowledge distinguished persons from matter and animals and was imperishable, capable of revealing god, and the only channel of redemption. The gnostic Marcion thus rejected the Old Testament, pointing out that the lesser or subordinate god revealed in it dealt with matter, insisted on law rather than grace, and was responsible for our decaying, tragedy-filled world. The god who revealed himself in Jesus and through the additional secret teachings was, on the other hand, the absolute god, and was not incarnate in human flesh because the absolute god would not enter evil matter—Christ only seemed or appeared to be a person, but He was not.
Gnostics divided Christians into groups, usually the spiritual and the carnal. The spiritual Christians were in a special or higher class than the ordinary Christians because they had received, as the elect of the good deity, a divine spark or spiritual seed in their beings which allowed them to be redeemed. The spiritual Christians were the true Christians who belonged to the heavenly world which was the true one. This belief that the spiritual Christians did not really belong to this world resulted in some Gnostics seeking to withdraw from the world in asceticism. Other gnostic systems took an opposite turn into antinomianism (belief that moral law is not valid for a person or group). They claimed that the spiritual Christians were not responsible for what they did and could not really sin. Thus they could act in any way they pleased without fear of discipline.
Gnostics placed great stress on secret teachings or traditions. This secret knowledge was not a product of intellectual effort but was given by Jesus, the Redeemer from the true deity, either in a special revelation or through His apostles. The followers of the gnostic Valentinus claimed, for example, that Theodus, a friend of Paul's, had been the means of transmission of the secret data. The secret knowledge was superior to the revelation recorded in the New Testament and was an essential supplement to it because only this secret knowledge could awaken or bring to life the divine spark or seed within the elect. When one received the gnosis or true knowledge, one became aware of one's true identity with a divine inner self, was set free (saved) from the dominion of the inferior creator god, and was enabled to live as a true child of the absolute and superior deity. To be able to attain to one's true destiny as the true deity's child, one had to engage in specific secret rituals and in some instances to memorize the secret data which enabled one to pass through the network of powers of the inferior deity who sought to keep persons imprisoned. Salvation was thus seen by the gnostics in a cosmic rather than a moral context—to be saved was to be enabled to return to the one true deity beyond this world.
The Gnostics thought faith was inferior to knowledge. The true sons of the absolute deity were saved through knowledge rather than faith. This was the feature of the various systems that gave the movements its designation: they were the Gnostics, the knowers. Yet what this precise knowledge was is quite vague. It was more a perception of one's own existence that solved life's mysteries for the Gnostic than it was a body of doctrine. The knowledge through which salvation came could be enhanced by participation in rituals or through instruction, but ultimately it was a self-discovery each Gnostic had to experience.
Origins of the Gnostic Concepts Gnosticism would not have been a threat to the early church if it had not been quite persuasive in the first centuries of the Christian era, and the question of where such ideas came from and what human needs they met must be addressed.
The classic answer to the question of why gnosticism arose is that it represents the “radical Hellenizing of Christianity.” In this view, gnosticism resulted from the attempt of early Christian thinkers to make Christianity understandable, acceptable, and respectable in a world almost totally permeated by Greek assumptions about the reality of the World. The expansion of Christianity from Palestine and its Jewish world of thought to the Roman Empire where Greek thought reigned called for an interpretation of Christianity that was more understandable. Common Hellenistic perceptions, such as the fact that matter and spirit were thought to be alien to one another, were incorporated into this re-statement of Christianity with the various gnostic systems as a result.
This classic view of the heretical gnostic sects as distortions of Christianity by Hellenistic thought has much strength because it is easily demonstrated how the Gnostics could use New Testament texts, bending them to their purposes. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 , for example, Paul chides the Corinthian Christians for being “people of the flesh” (NRSV) or carnal when they should be spiritual. This text could with ease be used as the foundation for supporting the Hellenistic idea of the superiority of certain persons in the Christian community. In this and many other instances, terms or expressions in the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul and John, could be lifted out of context and used in ways not originally intended by the authors to support gnostic doctrines.
The classic explanation does leave some problems unsolved, however. Little doubt exists that there are ideas, attitudes, and practices incorporated into many of the gnostic heresies that are found outside of Hellenistic thought and much earlier than the second century of the Christian era. In particular, the ultimate goal of the Gnostics—to return to the absolute deity beyond matter and to be in some sense absorbed into the deity—belongs to near eastern pre-Christian mystical thought and not primarily to the Hellenistic world.
The existence of such non-Hellenistic features in the gnostic sects has occasioned studies of the possibility of there being a pre-Christian gnosticism which could be understood in itself rather than as an heretical offshoot of the Christian faith. Some researchers came to the conclusion that there was a full-fledged, organized, pre-Christian gnostic religion with a literature and most crucially—the hope of a redeemer who would be sent from the true deity and ascend back to him after awakening the spiritual persons to their redemption. Some radical scholars even went so far as to maintain that the way the early Christians proclaimed Christ was dependent on and modeled after such gnostic expectation. This view thus came to be almost the exact opposite of the classic view of the gnostic sects as Christian heresies and made Christianity heavily dependent on gnosticism. This quite radical view of gnosticism has been shown to be inadequate because no literary evidence whatsoever exists for a full-blown pre-Christian gnosticism. As for a pre-Christian gnostic redeemer expectation, it is now generally acknowledged that this was a figment of the researcher's imagination without any relevant documentary evidence.
Although the radical conclusions of some scholars regarding a highly developed pre-Christian gnosticism have been discounted, it does seem clear that there were many ideas, assumptions, and perceptions about deity, reality, and the relationships of persons to gods and the world that were incorporated into the gnostic sects from outside Hellenistic sources. Two literary discoveries have both inspired and tended to support this line of research—the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in 1946 and the Nag Hammadi library in 1945 with many gnostic documents. The value of the study of gnosticism for interpreting the New Testament is greatest from the point of view that there was a pre-Christian gnosticism which was not an organized religion but was more a general attitude among thoughtful persons that although ignorance abounded, one could through knowledge come to understand one's true identity and find union or relationship with the absolute deity. This way of conceiving of a pre-Christian gnosticism supplements the classic view by providing an explanation for the rapid and widespread development of so many diverse gnostic heretical sects so quickly. This view also offers an explanation of why the New Testament could so easily be exploited by gnostic sects. The early Christian preachers and writers, seeking to speak and write to be understood, used terms current in the first century world in the vague context of gnostic religious longings and gave them new meaning in the context of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Harold S. Songer
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Gnosticism
Gnosticism (Gr. γνῶσις, ‘knowledge’) is the name of a syncretistic religion and philosophy which flourished more or less for four centuries alongside Christianity, by which it was considerably influenced, under which it sheltered, by which at last it was overcome. Gnosis is first used in the relevant specific sense in 1 Timothy 6:20; γνῶσις ψευδώνυμος-‘science falsely so-called.’ By Christian writers the word ‘Gnostics’ was at first applied mainly to one branch: the Ophites or Naasenes (Hippol. Philos. v. 2: ‘Naasenes who call themselves Gnostics’; cf. Iren. i. xi. 1; Epiphan. Haer. xxvi.). But already in Irenaeus the term has a wider application to the whole movement. Gnosticism rose to prominence early in the 2nd cent. though it is much older than that, and reached its height before the 3rd century. By the end of the latter century it was waning.
The above description will require justification. What may be termed the popular view of Gnosticism has been to regard it as a growth out of Christianity, an overdone theologizing on the part of Christians, who under foreign influences simply carried to extreme lengths what had been begun by apostles. Meantime it may be said that, in the view of the present writer, such a theory is an entire misconception, and historically untenable. Gnosticism and Christianity are two movements originally quite independent, so much so that it would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that, had there been no Christianity, there could still have been Gnosticism, in all essentials the Gnosticism we know.
1. Authorities.-Of the vast literature produced by Gnostics little has survived, and what has survived is almost entirely from the last stages of the movement. We may mention as survivals Pistis Sophia, the Coptic-Gnostic texts of the Codex Brucianus, the two Books of Jeu, and an unnamed third book described by C. Schmidt, ‘Gnost. Schriften in kopt. Sprache aus dem Codex Brucianus’ (Texte and Untersuchungen viii. [1]). Then we know something of works deeply tinged with Gnosticism, such as the Acts of Thomas. But our chief sources of knowledge are the writings of those Fathers who oppose Gnosticism, and who often give lengthy quotations from Gnostic works. These fragments have been carefully collected by Hilgenfeld in his Ketzer-geschichte. Most important of the Fathers for our purpose are Irenaeus (adv. Haer. i. 4), Hippolytus (Philosophoumena), Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis, Excerpta ex Theodoto), Tertullian (adv. Marcionem, adv. Hermogenem, adv. Valentinianos), Epiphanius (Panarion).
2. Main features of Gnosticism.-Gnosticism has often been described as a hopelessly tangled mass of unintelligible fantastic speculations, the product of imagination in unrestrained riot, irreducible to order. In its various, and especially its later forms, it shows a wealth of details which are fantastic, but, if we do not lose ourselves in too keen a search for minutiae, we shall find in it an imposing and quite intelligible system. Probably Gnostics themselves regarded as unessential those details which to us seem so fantastic (cf. Rainy, Ancient Catholic Church, p. 119). Gnostic schools generally were at one in holding a system the main features of which were as follows.
(1) A special revelation.-The word γνῶσις has misled many into thinking that Gnostics are essentially those who prize intellectual knowledge as superior to faith. By gnosis, however, we have to understand not knowledge gained by the use of the intellect, but knowledge given in a special revelation. Not greater intellectual power than the Christians possessed, but a fuller and better revelation, was what the Gnostics claimed to have. They took no personal credit for it; it had been handed down to them. Its author was Christ or one of His apostles, or at least one of their friends. In several cases they professed to be able to give the history of its transmission. Thus Basilides claims Glaukias, an interpreter of St. Peter (Strom. vii. 17 [2], 106f.), or Matthias (Hipp. vii. 20). Valentinus claims Theodas, an acquaintance of St. Paul’s (Strom. loc. cit.). The Ophites claim Mariamne and James (Hipp. v. 7). Or they appealed to a secret tradition imparted to a few by Jesus Himself (so Irenaeus frequently).
(2) Dualism.-This is the foundation principle of all Gnostic systems, and from it all else follows. In the ancient world we meet two kinds of dualism, one in Greek philosophy, the other in Eastern religion. Greek dualism was between φαινόμενα and νούμενα, between the world of sense-appearance and the realm of real being. The lower was but a shadow of the higher; still it was a copy of it. The contrast was not, to any great extent at least, between the good and the evil, but between the real and the empty, formless, unreal. Eastern dualism, on the other hand, drew a sharp distinction between the world of light and the world of darkness, two eternal antagonistic principles in unceasing conflict. In Gnosticism we have a primarily Eastern dualism combined with the Greek form. The world of goodness and light is the Pleroma (‘fullness’), i.e. the realm of reality in the Greek sense; the kingdom of evil and darkness is the Kenoma (‘emptiness’), the phenomenal world of Greek philosophy. Hence the Gnostic dualism comes to be between God and matter, two eternal entities, and the ὑλη (‘matter’) is essentially evil.
(3) Demiurge.-As the Gnostic surveyed the world of matter, he found patent traces of law and order ruling it. How did matter, in itself evil and lawless, come to be so orderly? The Gnostic took the view of Nature which J. S. Mill took, and argued that either the Creator was not all-good or He was not all-powerful. The Gnostic reasoned that the world which with all its order is yet so imperfect cannot be the work of God who is wholly good and all-wise; it must be the production of some far inferior being. The world, then, it was taught, was the work of a Demiurge-a being distinct from God. The character of this Demiurge was variously conceived by different schools; some, e.g. Cerinthus, made him a being simply ignorant of the highest God. The tendency became strong, however, to make him hostile to God, an enemy of Light and Truth (the blasphemia Creatoris). The God of the Jews was identified with this Demiurge. As to the origin of the Demiurge, some held him to belong ab initio to the realm of evil. But the characteristic view was that he was a much-removed emanation from the Pleroma. This theory of emanations is a prominent feature of most of the systems, and it is here that Gnosticism ran into those wild fancies that to some make the whole system so phantasmagoric. The view was that from God there emanated a series of beings called ‘aeons,’ each step in the genealogy meaning a diminution of purity; and the Demiurge was the creation of an aeon far down, indeed the very lowest in the scale. Nature and human nature, then, are productions of a Demiurge either ignorant of, or positively hostile to, the true God. While in a few schools there was only one Demiurge, most spoke of seven as concerned in cosmogony. The origin of this is clear. The seven are the seven astronomical deities of Perso-Babylonian religion. The fusion of Persian and Babylonian views resulted in those deities, originally beneficent, being conceived of as evil (Orig. c. Cels. vi. 22; Zimmern, KAT [3] 3 [4] ii. 620ff.).
(4) Redemption.-Christian and Gnostic agree in finding in this world goodness fettered and thwarted by evil. They differ entirely in their conception of the conflict. The familiar Christian view is that into a world of perfect order and goodness a fallen angel brought confusion and evil. The common Gnostic view is that into a world of evil a fallen aeon brought a spark of life and goodness. The fall of this aeon is variously explained in different systems, as due to weakness (the aeon furthest from God was unable to maintain itself in the Pleroma), or to a sinful passion which induced the aeon to plunge into the Kenoma. Howsoever the aeon fell, it is imprisoned in the Kenoma, and longs for emancipation and return to the Pleroma. With this longing the world of aeons sympathizes, and the most perfect aeon becomes a Redeemer. The Saviour descends, and after innumerable sufferings is able to lead back the fallen aeon to the Pleroma, where He unites with her in a spiritual marriage. Redemption is thus primarily a cosmical thing. But in redeeming the fallen aeon from darkness, the Saviour has made possible a redemption of individual souls. To the Gnostic, the initiated, the Saviour imparts clear knowledge of the ideal world to be striven after, and prompts him so to strive. The soul at all points, before and after death, was opposed by hostile spirits, and a great part of Gnostic teaching consisted in instructing the soul as to how those enemies could be over-come. Here comes in the tangle of magico-mystical teaching, so large an element of the later schools. All sorts of rites, baptisms, stigmatizings, sealing, piercing the ears, holy foods and drinks, etc., were enjoined. It was important also to know the names of the spirits, and the words by which they could be mastered. Some systems taught a multitude of such ‘words of power’; in other systems one master word was given, e.g. caulacau (Iren. i. xxiv. 5).
(5) Christology.-Gnosticism in union with Christianity identified its Saviour, of course, with Jesus. As to the connexion see below. All Christianized Gnostics held a peculiar Christology. Jesus was a pure Spirit, and it was abhorrent to thought that He should come into close contact with matter, the root of all evil. He had no true body, then, but an appearance which He assumed only to reveal Himself to the sensuous nature of man. Some, like Cerinthus, held that the Saviour united Himself with the man Jesus at the Baptism, and left him again before the Death. Others held that the body was a pure phantom. All agreed that the Divine Saviour was neither born nor capable of death. Such a view of Christ’s Person is Docetism, the antithesis of Ebionism.
(6) Anthropology.-Man is regarded as a microcosm. His tripartite nature (some had only a bipartism)-spirit, soul, body-reflects God, Demiurge, matter. There are also three classes of mankind-carnal (ὑλικοί), psychic (ψυχικοί), spiritual (πνευματικοί). Heathen are hylic, Jews psychic, and Christians spiritual. But within the Christian religion itself the same three classes are found; the majority are only psychic, the truly spiritual are the Gnostics. They alone are the true Church.
(7) Eschatology.-while Gnostics alone were certain of return to the Kingdom of Light, some at least were disposed to think charitably of the destiny of the psychics, who might attain a measure of felicity. Gnostics denied a resurrection of the body, as we should expect. The whole world of matter was to be at last destroyed by fires springing from its own bosom.
(8) Old Testament.-While there existed a Judaistic Gnosticism, represented by Essenes, Gnostic Ebionites, and Cerinthus (qq.v. [5] ), who with various modifications accepted the OT, the great mass of Gnostics were anti-Judaistic, and rejected the OT. This followed logically from their identification of the God of the Jews with the Demiurge, an ignorant, and in some cases an evil, Being. No doubt they found also some plausible support in Pauline anti-legalism. We can see here what ground some schools could have for making heroes of the characters represented as wicked in the OT. If it was inspired by an ignorant or wicked Being, truth would be found by inverting its estimates.
Such in outline is Gnosticism as a system, though schools varied in detail under every heading (cf. Harnack, Dogmengeschichte; P. Wernle, Beginnings of Christianity, Eng. translation , London, 1903-04; Schaff, Church History, ‘Ante-Nicene Christianity’).
(9) Gnostic cultus and ethic.-The full development of these (as of the whole system), of course, lies outside our period, but of the latter we see the tendencies in the NT itself; and it is desirable to say something of the former, to make our sketch of the main features of Gnosticism complete.
(a) As to cultus, Gnosticism produced two opposite movements which are comparable with puritanism and ritualism respectively. The abhorrence of matter led some consistently to the utmost simplicity of worship. Some rejected all sacraments and other outward means of grace, and the Prodicians rejected even prayer (Epiphan. Haer. xxvi.; Clem. Alex. Strom. i. 15 [6], vii. 7 [7]). On the other hand, many groups, especially the Marcosians, went to the opposite extreme with a symbolic and mystic pomp in worship. This, while inconsistent with the Gnostic views of matter, is in line with the ideas of magico-mystical salvation indicated above. Sacraments were numerous, rites many and varied. It seems clear that they led the way in introducing features which became characteristic of the Catholic Church. They were distinguished as hymn-writers (Bardesanes, Ophites, Valentinians). The Basilideans seem to have been the first to celebrate the festival of Epiphany. The Simonians and Carpocratians first used images of Christ and others (see Church Histories of Schaff, Kurtz, etc.).
(b) The ethic also took two directions-one towards an unbridled antinomianism, the other towards a gloomy asceticism. Antinomian Gnostics (e.g. Nicolaitans, Ophites) held that sensuality is to be overcome by indulging it to exhaustion, and they practised the foulest debaucheries. The Ascetics (e.g. Saturninus, Tatian) abhorred matter, and strove to avoid all contact with flesh as far as possible. This led them to forbid marriage and indulgence in certain kinds of food. This ethic in both branches is the unfailing outcome of the primary dualism characteristic of Gnosticism. Wherever dualistic notions are influential, we find this twin development of antinomianism and asceticism. In the NT we find both kinds of error referred to (see below). It is to be remembered that neither by itself is sufficient to indicate Gnosticism. There are many sources conceivable, for asceticism especially.
3. Origins.-The older view was that Gnostics are Christian heretics, i.e. errorists within the Church who gradually diverged from normal Christianity, under an impulse to make a philosophy of their religion. To fill up the blanks of the Christian revelation, they adopted heathen (mainly Greek) speculations. Mosheim was among the first to perceive that the roots of what is peculiar in Gnosticism are to be sought in Eastern rather than in Greek speculation. In recent times there has taken place a thorough examination of all Gnostic remains, and knowledge of Eastern speculation has advanced. The result of the two-fold investigation has been to show that Gnosticism is far more closely in affinity with Eastern thought than had been imagined, not only in its deviations from Christianity, but as a whole.
It is well known that the age with which we deal was marked by nothing more strongly than by its syncretism. All the faiths and philosophies of the world met, and became fluid, so to say. Strange combinations resulted, and were dissolved again for lack of something round which they might crystallize. Alike in philosophy and religion, attempts were made to establish by syncretism a universal system out of the confusion. Gnosticism owes its being to that syncretism. In view of the lack of definite information, any attempt to trace or reconstruct its actual history must be made with diffidence. Probably we should regard its primary impulse as philosophical rather than religious. It was an answer to problem, Whence comes evil? (Tert. de Praesc. Haer. vii.; Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.)v. 27; Epiphan. Haer. xxiv. 6). This led to the other question, What is the origin of the world? Oriental thought identified the two questions. In the origin of the world was involved the existence of evil. A full explanation of the one included an explanation of the other.
In Perso-Babylonian syncretism, we take it, Gnosticism has its primary root, and from that alone many of its features may be plausibly derived. To this is to be added some influence of Judaism. There was a syncretistic Judaism of varied character. We know definitely of three forms: (l) Essenic (see article Essenes); (2) Samaritan, which had been going on for centuries b.c., and from which sprang the system of Simon Magus (with his predecessor Dositheus, and his successor Menander), who is distinguished by the Fathers as the parent of Gnosticism; (3) Alexandrian, represented mainly by Philo, who produced an amalgam of Judaism with Greek philosophy. Probably it would be justifiable to add as a fourth example the Jewish Kabbâlâ. It is a body of writings unfolding a traditional and, partly at least, esoteric doctrine. Its most characteristic doctrines are found also in the two Gnostic leaders, Basilides and Valentinus (A. Franck, La Kabbale, Paris, 1843, p. 350 ff.). It is difficult, however, to prove that the Kabbâlâ is not later than Gnosticism, though there is practical certainty that its history was a long one before it took final shape.
A third and very important element manifest in the fully developed Gnostic systems is Greek philosophy. Genetically, then, Gnosticism may be defined as largely a syncretistic system rising from Perso-Babylonian religion, modified to some extent, difficult to estimate, by Judaism, and in some particulars borrowing from, and as a whole clarified ay contact with, Greek philosophy. These elements might be effective in very varied degrees, and produced varied systems as this or that element predominated. But from those three sources, apart altogether from Christianity, Gnosticism in all essentials may be derived. And all three were in active interaction before the appearance of Christianity. An important consideration follows, viz. that it is absolutely no proof of a late date for any NT writing that it contains allusions to even a comparatively well-developed Gnosticism.
4. Connexion with Christianity.-How is this connexion to be conceived or explained? What did Gnosticism owe to Christianity? Before Christianity we picture Gnosticism as vague, fluid, unstable. When Christianity was thrown into the mass of floating opinions in the ancient world, it afforded the vague Gnostic movements a point round which they could crystallize and attain a measure of permanence and definiteness, so that out of more or less loose speculations systems could be built. Men imbued with Gnostic views (the loose elements of the system described) would easily find points of resemblance between themselves and Christianity. It dealt in a way with the very problems that interested the Gnostic. And in apostolic teaching, especially in St. Paul, there were many points which it took little ingenuity to transform into Gnostic views. The world was to be overcome; it lay in wickedness; the flesh was to be mortified; there was a law in the members warring against the spirit. Divorced from the general teaching of the apostles, this could be claimed as just the Gnostic position. It is, we take it, a misconception to regard such apostolic teaching as the starting-point of Gnosticism. In our view Gnosticism had already a considerable history, and had attained a considerable development as a system, before Christianity appeared. But in such teaching Gnosticism found points of attachment to Christianity, and other points might be adduced. Gnosticism then came to shelter within the Church, never learning her essential spirit, but going on its own evolution. Growing at first from distinct roots of its own, it twined itself about the Church and became a parasite.
It is not easy to answer the question, Is the soteriology of Gnosticism borrowed from Christianity, or is it too an independent thing? Some points are quite plain which may justify our accepting the latter alternative. It is clear that between the Gnostic Σωτήρ (Saviour) and the historical Jesus there is no discernible likeness. The redemption of the fallen aeon by the Soter has nothing to do with a historical appearance on earth and in time. The Gnostic redemption-story is a myth, an allegory, not a historical narrative. But under the influence of Christianity, laborious attempts were made to bring this soteriology into union with the Christian account of the historical Jesus. The attempt was not a success. ‘In this patchwork the joins are everywhere still clearly to be recognized’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica 11 xii. [1] 157a). Indeed some Gnostics made no secret of the difference between their Soter and the Christ of ordinary Christians-the Soter was for Gnostics alone, Jesus Christ for ‘Psychics’ (Iren. i. vi. 1). The fact that one school required its members to curse Jesus is not without significance in the same direction. The most probable view is that Gnosticism in all its elements was independent of Christianity, but strove to put over itself a Christian guise, and represent itself as a fuller Christianity. But even the master minds which formulated the great systems of the 2nd cent. were baffled to conceal effectively what could not be hidden, the essentially alien nature and origin of their speculative flights.
5. Allusions in the NT.-In the NT there are several clear indications that the invasion of Christianity by Gnosticism is already in progress.
(1) We note regarding Simon Magus (" translation="">Acts 8:9 f.) only this, that in the narrative we have an allegory of what we conceive the relation of Gnosticism to Christianity to have been. He was attracted to the apostles, was baptized, and still remained in the ‘bond of iniquity.’ For this alone he may well be named the father of the Gnostics (see article Simon Magus).
(2) There are some passages which seem not only to be designed to state the Christian position, but to be directed against errors characteristic of Gnosticism: (a) against Docetism; most striking is " translation="">Hebrews 2:14-18; (b) against the demiurgic idea (" translation="">John 1:3, " translation="">Hebrews 1:2, " translation="">Colossians 1:16 ff.).
(3) A definite polemic against errorists who are almost certainly Gnostics is found in the following passages:
(a) Colossians.-The errorists in question claim a superior knowledge (" translation="">Colossians 2:8; " translation="">Colossians 2:18), pay great regard to angels-beings intermediate between God and man (" translation="">Colossians 2:18)-teach asceticism (" translation="">Colossians 2:21; " translation="">Colossians 2:23); and probably their demiurgic notion is refuted in " translation="">Colossians 1:16. These are the elements of Gnosticism, and most likely the Colossian errorists are Judaistic Gnostics of the same type as Cerinthus.
(b) Pastoral Epistles.-The references to Gnosticism are so clear here that some find in them a main ground for assigning a late date to the Epistles. Gnosticism has already appropriated the name γνῶσις (" translation="">1 Timothy 5:20). The errorists profess a superior knowledge (" translation="">Titus 1:16, " translation="">2 Timothy 3:7). Their profane and vain babblings (" translation="">2 Timothy 2:16), old wives’ fables (" translation="">1 Timothy 4:7), foolish questions and genealogies (" translation="">Titus 3:9), denial of the resurrection of the body (" translation="">2 Timothy 2:18), asceticism and depreciation of ‘creatures’ (" translation="">1 Timothy 4:3-4), and in other cases their antinomianism (" translation="">2 Timothy 3:6, " translation="">Titus 1:16)-all are tokens of Gnosticism.
(c) Peter and Jude.-The gross errorists denounced in 2 Peter 2 and Jude show close affinity with the Ophite sect, the Cainites (q.v. [9] ) (Hippol. viii. 20; Strom. vii. 17 [10]; Epiph. Haer. xxxviii.). They made Cain their first hero; and, regarding the God of the Jews as an evil being, and the Scriptures as, in consequence, a perversion of truth, honoured all infamous characters from Cain to Iscariot, who alone of the apostles had the secret of true knowledge. Naturally, they practised the wildest antinomianism, holding it necessary for perfect knowledge to have practical experience of all sins. The ‘filthy dreamers,’ who ‘speak evil of dignities’ and ‘go in the way of Cain,’ are certainly closely allied to this position.
(d) 1 John.-There is throughout a contrast between true knowledge and false. Beyond reasonable doubt the Epistle has mainly, if not exclusively, Cerinthus in view. He is interesting in the history of heresy for his combination of Ebionite Christology with a Gnostic idea of the Creator (see article Cerinthus). It is mainly the former that is in view in 1 John (" translation="">1 John 2:22; " translation="">1 John 4:3 ff.), but " translation="">1 John 2:4; " translation="">1 John 2:9 are directed against Gnostic antinomianism.
(e) Revelation.-Here we have definite mention of a Gnostic sect, by name the Nicolaitans (" translation="">Revelation 2:6; " translation="">Revelation 2:15). They derived their name from Nicolas of " translation="">Acts 6:5. ‘They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence, … teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols’ (Iren. Haer. i. xxvi. 3). Clem. Alex. (Strom. iii. 4 [1]0) says that the followers of Nicolas misunderstood his saying that ‘we must fight against the flesh and abuse it.’ What Nicolas meant to be an ascetic principle, they took to be an antinomian one.
We have notice of another branch of antinomian Gnosticism in " translation="">Revelation 2:20, where the ‘prophetess Jezebel’ in Thyatira is ‘teaching and seducing’ the faithful.
Gnosticism thus plays no inconsiderable part in the NT itself. It is, however, to exaggerate that, to find references to Gnosticism in verses where terms occur that afterwards became technical terms in Gnostic systems, viz. pleroma (e.g. " translation="">Ephesians 1:23), aeon (e.g. " translation="">Ephesians 2:2
1910 New Catholic Dictionary - Gnosticism
(Greek: gnosis, knowledge)
Salvation by knowledge. Gnostics were people who claimed to know mysteries of the universe; various pantheistic sects, antedating the Christian era and lasting to the 5th century and borrowing the formulas of various religious, particularly of Christianity, to express their view of matter as inimical to spirit, and of the universe as a depravation of the Deity. It is an extinct force, so far as religion is concerned today, but there are survivals of it in Swedenborgianism, New Thought, and in some of the sects of Occultism.
Morrish Bible Dictionary - Gnosticism
An early system of philosophy professedly Christian. One of their theories was that the Lord was an Æon and not really a man. Apparently to refute this the apostle insists on Christ having come 'in flesh.' 1 John 4:2,3 ; 2 John 7 . The same may be alluded to in Colossians 2:9 , "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily ," in opposition to their mysticism. See GENEALOGIES.
Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Gnosticism
GNOSTICISM
1. Gnosticism proper . The term, which comes from the Gr. gnôsis , ‘knowledge,’ is now technically used to describe an eclectic philosophy of the 2nd cent. a.d. which was represented by a number of sects or divisions of people. The philosophy was constructed out of Jewish, Pagan, and Christian elements, and was due mainly to the inevitable contact and conflict between these various modes of thought. It was an attempt to Incorporate Christian with Jewish and Pagan ideas in solving the problems of life. The more important of these problems were (1) How to reconcile the creation of the world by a perfectly good God with the presence of evil; (2) how the human spirit came to be imprisoned in matter, and how it was to be emancipated. The first problem was solved by predicating a series of emanations starting from a perfectly good and supreme God, and coming down step by step to an imperfect being who created the world with its evils. Thus there was an essential dualism of good and evil. The second problem was solved by advocating either an ascetic life, wherein everything material was as far as possible avoided, or else a licentious life, in which everything that was material was used without discrimination. Associated with these speculations was a view of Christ which resolved Him into a phantom, denied the reality of His earthly manifestation, and made Him only a temporary non-material emanation of Deity. Gnosticism culminated, as the name suggests, in the glorification of knowledge and in a tendency to set knowledge against faith, regarding the former as superior and as the special possession of a select spiritual few, and associating the latter with the great mass of average people who could not rise to the higher level. Salvation was therefore by knowledge, not by faith. The will was subordinated to the intellect, and everything was made to consist of an esoteric knowledge which was the privilege of an intellectual aristocracy.
2. Gnosticism in relation to the NT . It is obvious that it is only in the slightest and most partial way that we can associate Gnosticism of a fully developed kind with the NT.
There is a constant danger, which has not always been avoided, of reading back into isolated NT expressions the Gnostic ideas of the 2nd century. While we may see in the NT certain germs which afterwards came to maturity in Gnosticism, we must be on our guard lest we read too much into NT phraseology, and there by draw wrong conclusions. One example of this danger may be given. Simon Magus occupies a prominent place in the thoughts of many 2nd and 3rd cent. writers, and by some he is regarded as one of the founders of Gnosticism. This may or may not have been true, but at any rate there is absolutely nothing in Acts 8:1-40 to suggest even the germ of the idea.
It is necessary to consider carefully the main idea of gnosis , ‘knowledge,’ in the NT. ( a ) It is an essential element of true Christianity, and is associated with the knowledge of God in Christ ( 2 Corinthians 2:14 ; 2 Corinthians 4:6 ), with the knowledge of Christ Himself ( Philippians 3:8 , 2 Peter 3:18 ), and with the personal experience of what is involved in the Christian life ( Romans 2:20 ; Rom 15:14 , 1 Corinthians 1:5 ; 1 Corinthians 3:19 , Colossians 2:3 ). In the term epignosis we have the further idea of ‘full knowledge’ which marks the ripe, mature Christian. This word is particularly characteristic of the Pauline Epistles of the First Captivity (Phil., Col., Eph.), and indicates the Apostle’s view of the spiritually-advanced believer. But gnosis and epignosis always imply something more and deeper than intellectual understanding. They refer to a personal experience at once intellectual and spiritual, and include intellectual apprehension and moral perception. As distinct from wisdom, knowledge is spiritual experience considered in itself, while wisdom is knowledge in its practical application and use. In Colossians it is generally thought that the errors combated were associated with certain forms of Gnosticism. Lightfoot, on the one hand, sees in the references in ch. 2 Jewish elements of scrupulousness in the observance of days, and of asceticism in the distinction of meats, together with Greek or other purely Gnostic elements in theosophic speculation, shadowy mysticism, and the interposition of angels between God and man. He thinks the references are to one heresy in which these two separate elements are used, and that St. Paul deals with both aspects at once in Colossians 2:8-23 . With Gnostic intellectual exclusiveness he deals in Colossians 1:18 and Colossians 2:11 , with speculative tendencies in Colossians 1:15-20 , Colossians 2:9-15 , with practical tendencies to asceticism or licence in Colossians 2:16-23 . Hort ( Judaistic Christianity) , on the other hand, sees nothing but Judaistic elements in the Epistle, and will not allow that there are two independent sets of ideas blended. He considers that, apart from the phrase ‘philosophy and vain deceit’ ( Colossians 2:8 ), there is nothing of speculative doctrine in the Epistle. He says that angel-worship was already prevalent quite apart from philosophy, and that there is no need to look beyond Judaism for what is found here. This difference between these two great scholars shows the extreme difficulty of attempting to find anything technically called Gnosticism in Colossians. ( b ) The Pastoral Epistles are usually next put under review. In 1 Timothy 1:4 ; 1 Timothy 4:8 , we are hidden by Lightfoot to see further developments of what had been rife in Colossæ. Hort again differs from this view, and concludes that there is no clear evidence of speculative or Gnosticizing tendencies, but only of a dangerous fondness for Jewish trifling, both of the legendary and casuistical kind. ( c ) In the First Epistle of John ( 1 John 4:1 ; 1 John 4:3 ) we are reminded of later Gnostic tendencies as represented by Cerinthus and others, who regarded our Lord as not really man, but only a phantom and a temporary emanation from the Godhead. The prominence given to ‘knowledge’ as an essential element of true Christian life is very striking in this Epistle, part of whose purpose is that those who possess eternal life in Christ may ‘know’ it ( 1 John 5:13 ). The verb ‘to know’ occurs in the Epistle no less than thirty-five times. ( d ) In Revelation ( Revelation 2:6 ; Revelation 2:15 ; Revelation 2:20 ; Revelation 2:24 ; Revelation 3:14 ; Revelation 3:21 ) it is thought that further tendencies of a Gnostic kind are observable, and Lightfoot sees in the latter passage proof that the heresy of Colossæ was continuing in that district of Asia Minor. The precariousness of this position is, however, evident, when it is realized that the errors referred to are clearly antinomian, and may well have arisen apart from any Gnostic speculations.
From the above review, together with the differences between great scholars, it is evident that the attempt to connect the NT with the later Gnosticism of the 2nd cent. must remain at best but partially successful. All that we can properly say is that in the NT there are signs of certain tendencies which were afterwards seen in the 2nd cent. Gnosticism, but whether there was any real connexion between the 1st cent. germs and the 2nd cent. developments is another question. In the clash of Judaistic, Hellenic, and Christian thought, it would not be surprising if already there were attempts at eclecticism, but the precise links of connexion between the germs of the NT and the developments of the 2nd cent. are yet to seek.
One thing we must keep clearly before us: gnosis in the NT is a truly honourable and important term, and stands for an essential part of the Christian life. Of course there is always the liability to the danger of mere speculation, and the consequent need of emphasizing love as contrasted with mere knowledge ( 1 Corinthians 8:1 ; 1 Corinthians 13:2 ), but when gnosis is regarded as both intellectual and moral, we see at once how necessary it is to a true, growing Christian life. The stress laid upon epignosis in later books of the NT, Pauline and Petrine, and the marked prominence given to the cognate terms in 1 John, clearly indicate the importance placed on the idea by Apostolic writers as a safeguard of the Christian life. While it is the essential feature of the young Christian to have (forgiveness); and of the growing Christian to be (strong); it is that of the ripe Christian to know ( 1 John 2:12-14 ). Knowledge and faith are never contrasted in the NT. It is a false and impossible antithesis. ‘Through faith we understand’ ( Hebrews 11:3 ). Faith and sight, not faith and reason, are antithetical. We know in order to believe, credence leading to confidence; and then we believe in order to know more. Knowledge and trust act and react on each other. Truth and trust are correlatives, not contradictories. It is only mere speculative knowledge that is ‘falsely so called’ ( 1 Timothy 6:20 ), because it does not take its rise and find its life and sustenance in God’s revelation in Christ; but Christian gnosis received into the heart, mind, conscience and will, is that by which we are enabled to see the true as opposed to the false ‘to distinguish things that differ’ ( Philippians 1:10 ), and to adhere closely to the way of truth and life. The Apostle describes the natural earth-bound man as lacking this spiritual discernment; he has no such faculty ( 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 ). The spiritual man ( 1 Corinthians 2:15 ; 1 Corinthians 3:1 ), or the perfect or ripe man ( 1 Corinthians 2:8 ), is the man who knows ; and this knowledge which is at once intellectual, moral and spiritual, is one of the greatest safeguards against every form of error, and one of the choicest secrets of the enjoyment of the revelation of God in Christ.
W. H. Griffith Thomas.
CARM Theological Dictionary - Gnosticism
A theological error prevalent around the time of Christ. Generally speaking, Gnosticism taught that salvation is achieved through special knowledge (gnosis). This knowledge usually dealt with the individual's relationship to the transcendent Being. It denies the incarnation of God as the Son. In so doing, it denies the true efficacy of the atonement since, if Jesus is not God, He could not atone for all of mankind and we would still be lost in our sins. For more information. Please see Heresies for more information.

Sentence search

Gospel of Thomas - See Apocrypha, New Testament ; Gnosticism
Priscillianist - ) A follower of Priscillian, bishop of Avila in Spain, in the fourth century, who mixed various elements of Gnosticism and Manicheism with Christianity
Science - See Gnosticism
Aeon - In Gnosticism, one of the spiritual powers evolved from the eternal Divine Being by progressive emanation and constituting the Pleroma (plenitude) or invisible spiritual world, as distinct from the Kenoma (chaotic void) or visible material world
Gnosticism - The term “gnosticism” is derived from the Greek word gnosis (knowledge) because secret knowledge was so crucial a doctrine in Gnosticism. ...
Importance of Gnosticism The significance of Gnosticism for students of Christianity has two dimensions: the first is its prominence in the history of the church, and the second is its importance for interpreting certain features of the New Testament. Gnosticism emerged in schools of thought within the church in the early second century and soon established itself as a way of understanding Christianity in all of the church's principal centers. The church was torn by the heated debates over the issues posed by Gnosticism. Gnosticism was thus a major threat to the early church; and the early church leaders, such as Irenaeus (died about 200), Tertullian (died about 220), and Hippolytus (died about 236), wrote voluminously against it. Many of the features of Gnosticism were incorporated into the sect of the Manichees in the third century, and Manichaeism endured as an heretical threat to the church into the fourth century. ...
Gnosticism is also important for interpreting certain features of the New Testament. Other interpreters of the New Testament understand Gnosticism to be crucial at many other points in interpreting the New Testament as will be discussed to follow. ...
Origins of the Gnostic Concepts Gnosticism would not have been a threat to the early church if it had not been quite persuasive in the first centuries of the Christian era, and the question of where such ideas came from and what human needs they met must be addressed. ...
The classic answer to the question of why Gnosticism arose is that it represents the “radical Hellenizing of Christianity. ” In this view, Gnosticism resulted from the attempt of early Christian thinkers to make Christianity understandable, acceptable, and respectable in a world almost totally permeated by Greek assumptions about the reality of the World. ...
The existence of such non-Hellenistic features in the gnostic sects has occasioned studies of the possibility of there being a pre-Christian Gnosticism which could be understood in itself rather than as an heretical offshoot of the Christian faith. This view thus came to be almost the exact opposite of the classic view of the gnostic sects as Christian heresies and made Christianity heavily dependent on Gnosticism. This quite radical view of Gnosticism has been shown to be inadequate because no literary evidence whatsoever exists for a full-blown pre-Christian Gnosticism. ...
Although the radical conclusions of some scholars regarding a highly developed pre-Christian Gnosticism have been discounted, it does seem clear that there were many ideas, assumptions, and perceptions about deity, reality, and the relationships of persons to gods and the world that were incorporated into the gnostic sects from outside Hellenistic sources. The value of the study of Gnosticism for interpreting the New Testament is greatest from the point of view that there was a pre-Christian Gnosticism which was not an organized religion but was more a general attitude among thoughtful persons that although ignorance abounded, one could through knowledge come to understand one's true identity and find union or relationship with the absolute deity. This way of conceiving of a pre-Christian Gnosticism supplements the classic view by providing an explanation for the rapid and widespread development of so many diverse gnostic heretical sects so quickly
Gnosticism - Gnosticism (Gr. Gnosticism rose to prominence early in the 2nd cent. What may be termed the popular view of Gnosticism has been to regard it as a growth out of Christianity, an overdone theologizing on the part of Christians, who under foreign influences simply carried to extreme lengths what had been begun by apostles. Gnosticism and Christianity are two movements originally quite independent, so much so that it would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that, had there been no Christianity, there could still have been Gnosticism, in all essentials the Gnosticism we know. Then we know something of works deeply tinged with Gnosticism, such as the Acts of Thomas. But our chief sources of knowledge are the writings of those Fathers who oppose Gnosticism, and who often give lengthy quotations from Gnostic works. Main features of Gnosticism. -Gnosticism has often been described as a hopelessly tangled mass of unintelligible fantastic speculations, the product of imagination in unrestrained riot, irreducible to order. In Gnosticism we have a primarily Eastern dualism combined with the Greek form. This theory of emanations is a prominent feature of most of the systems, and it is here that Gnosticism ran into those wild fancies that to some make the whole system so phantasmagoric. -Gnosticism in union with Christianity identified its Saviour, of course, with Jesus. -While there existed a Judaistic Gnosticism, represented by Essenes, Gnostic Ebionites, and Cerinthus (qq. ...
Such in outline is Gnosticism as a system, though schools varied in detail under every heading (cf. -The full development of these (as of the whole system), of course, lies outside our period, but of the latter we see the tendencies in the NT itself; and it is desirable to say something of the former, to make our sketch of the main features of Gnosticism complete. ...
(a) As to cultus, Gnosticism produced two opposite movements which are comparable with puritanism and ritualism respectively. This ethic in both branches is the unfailing outcome of the primary dualism characteristic of Gnosticism. It is to be remembered that neither by itself is sufficient to indicate Gnosticism. Mosheim was among the first to perceive that the roots of what is peculiar in Gnosticism are to be sought in Eastern rather than in Greek speculation. The result of the two-fold investigation has been to show that Gnosticism is far more closely in affinity with Eastern thought than had been imagined, not only in its deviations from Christianity, but as a whole. Gnosticism owes its being to that syncretism. ...
In Perso-Babylonian syncretism, we take it, Gnosticism has its primary root, and from that alone many of its features may be plausibly derived. , and from which sprang the system of Simon Magus (with his predecessor Dositheus, and his successor Menander), who is distinguished by the Fathers as the parent of Gnosticism; (3) Alexandrian, represented mainly by Philo, who produced an amalgam of Judaism with Greek philosophy. It is difficult, however, to prove that the Kabbâlâ is not later than Gnosticism, though there is practical certainty that its history was a long one before it took final shape. Genetically, then, Gnosticism may be defined as largely a syncretistic system rising from Perso-Babylonian religion, modified to some extent, difficult to estimate, by Judaism, and in some particulars borrowing from, and as a whole clarified ay contact with, Greek philosophy. But from those three sources, apart altogether from Christianity, Gnosticism in all essentials may be derived. that it is absolutely no proof of a late date for any NT writing that it contains allusions to even a comparatively well-developed Gnosticism. -How is this connexion to be conceived or explained? What did Gnosticism owe to Christianity? Before Christianity we picture Gnosticism as vague, fluid, unstable. It is, we take it, a misconception to regard such apostolic teaching as the starting-point of Gnosticism. In our view Gnosticism had already a considerable history, and had attained a considerable development as a system, before Christianity appeared. But in such teaching Gnosticism found points of attachment to Christianity, and other points might be adduced. Gnosticism then came to shelter within the Church, never learning her essential spirit, but going on its own evolution. ...
It is not easy to answer the question, Is the soteriology of Gnosticism borrowed from Christianity, or is it too an independent thing? Some points are quite plain which may justify our accepting the latter alternative. The most probable view is that Gnosticism in all its elements was independent of Christianity, but strove to put over itself a Christian guise, and represent itself as a fuller Christianity. -In the NT there are several clear indications that the invasion of Christianity by Gnosticism is already in progress. ) only this, that in the narrative we have an allegory of what we conceive the relation of Gnosticism to Christianity to have been. ...
(2) There are some passages which seem not only to be designed to state the Christian position, but to be directed against errors characteristic of Gnosticism: (a) against Docetism; most striking is " translation="">Hebrews 2:14-18; (b) against the demiurgic idea (" translation="">John 1:3, " translation="">Hebrews 1:2, " translation="">Colossians 1:16 ff. These are the elements of Gnosticism, and most likely the Colossian errorists are Judaistic Gnostics of the same type as Cerinthus. -The references to Gnosticism are so clear here that some find in them a main ground for assigning a late date to the Epistles. Gnosticism has already appropriated the name γνῶσις (" translation="">1 Timothy 5:20). Their profane and vain babblings (" translation="">2 Timothy 2:16), old wives’ fables (" translation="">1 Timothy 4:7), foolish questions and genealogies (" translation="">Titus 3:9), denial of the resurrection of the body (" translation="">2 Timothy 2:18), asceticism and depreciation of ‘creatures’ (" translation="">1 Timothy 4:3-4), and in other cases their antinomianism (" translation="">2 Timothy 3:6, " translation="">Titus 1:16)-all are tokens of Gnosticism. ...
We have notice of another branch of antinomian Gnosticism in " translation="">Revelation 2:20, where the ‘prophetess Jezebel’ in Thyatira is ‘teaching and seducing’ the faithful. ...
Gnosticism thus plays no inconsiderable part in the NT itself. It is, however, to exaggerate that, to find references to Gnosticism in verses where terms occur that afterwards became technical terms in Gnostic systems, viz
Philosophy - Some points of contact between it and the Bible will be found in such articles as Gnosticism, Logos, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom; cf
Profane - Judaism from behind and Gnosticism coming on in frond are the worst offenders. ‘Profane babblings and oppositions of knowledge falsely so-called’ (1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 2:16), if they are not Gnostic, are leading to Gnosticism, its hair-splittings, cloud of words, pride of knowledge, unnatural asceticism, and moral looseness. Gnosticism, with all that led up to it, was peculiarly profane, because it brought into the meekness of Christianity the dialectical pride of the West and the ‘caste’ feeling of the East; it pretended to have special knowledge; it made purity into a formal distinction between matter and spirit (see Clean); it indulged in capricious philosophical views of Christian truth, and became a masquerade of sacred things. 73-113; for analysis of present-day Gnosticism, P
Nag Hammadi - Because of the close proximity of Nag Hammadi to the site of an important discovery of ancient documents relating to Gnosticism, the collection of documents is usually referred to as the Nag Hammadi documents or library. ...
The Contents of the Nag Hammadi Documents Practically all the materials reflect the religious outlook called Gnosticism, an emerging world view that caused considerable difficulty for early Christianity. See Gnosticism . ...
Until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Documents, our knowledge of Gnosticism came primarily from early Christian writers who wrote against the movement. Christian writers such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian not only gave descriptions of the teachings of Gnosticism, but they also quoted from gnostic writings. Provides primary source material enabling a greater understanding of Gnosticism. Enhance the study of the New Testament, especially of the books that may have been written as reactions to Gnosticism, such as Colossians, John, and possibly 1Corinthians. Reflect the diversity of Gnosticism and point to the diversity of early Christianity and the resultant struggle for orthodoxy
Philetus - 4); the germs of Gnosticism, which fully developed itself in the second century
Babism - It is a pantheistic Mohammedanism which is a development of certain tenets of Islam, colored with Gnosticism, Buddhism, and Judaism
Gnosticism - Generally speaking, Gnosticism taught that salvation is achieved through special knowledge (gnosis)
Irenaeus, Saint - Most of his writings are directed against Gnosticism which was then prevalent throughout Gaul; his relation to Saint Polycarp, the disciple of Saint John, gave greater importance to his works
Hymenaeus - See Gnosticism
Demiurge - In the sense of a world-maker, distinct from the Supreme God, Demiurge became a common term in the various systems of Gnosticism
Balak - It is difficult to resist the conclusion that, if Balaam is the teacher of Gnosticism, Balak is the Roman power which has adopted syncretism and seeks to compel the Christians to adopt its ways also, and so makes them fall into the corruptions attendant on pagan worship
Gnosticism - Gnosticism. The Timaeus of Plato is a favourable specimen of the philosophic writings which moulded the Gnostic speculations; and the interval between that and a modern treatise on physics is fully as wide as between Gnosticism and modern scientific theology. And it may be said that deeply important as were some of the particular questions discussed in the conflict between the church and Gnosticism, an even more important issue of that conflict was the decision of the method by which religious knowledge was to be arrived at. The Gnostics generally held that the Saviour effected redemption by making a revelation of knowledge, yet they but feebly attempted to connect historically their teaching with his; what was derived from Him was buried under elements taken freely from heathen mythologies and philosophies, or springing from the mere fancy of the speculator, so that, if Gnosticism had triumphed, all that is distinctively Christian would have disappeared. Thus, by the conflict with Gnosticism reverence in the church was deepened for the authority of revelation as restraining the licence of human speculation, and so the channel was marked out within the bounds of which religious thought continued for centuries to flow. ...
Use of the Word Gnosticism. —In logical order we ought to begin by defining Gnosticism, and so fixing what extension is to be given to the application of the term, a point on which writers are not agreed. We conform to more ordinary usage in giving to the word a narrower sense, but this is a matter on which controversy would be only verbal, Gnosticism not being a word which has in its own nature a definite meaning. " If we fix our attention on the predominance of the speculative over the practical in Gnosticism, which, as Baur truly remarks, led men to regard Christianity less as a means of salvation than as furnishing the principles of a philosophy of the universe, we must allow that since their time very many orthodox writings have been open to the same criticism. We come very close to a definition if we make the criterion of Gnosticism to be the establishment of a dualism between spirit and matter; and, springing out of this, the doctrine that the world was created by some power different from the supreme God, yet we might not be able to establish that this characteristic belongs to every sect which we count as Gnostic; and if we are asked why we do not count such sects as the Manicheans among the Gnostics, the best answer is that usage confines the word to those sects which arose in the ferment of thought when Christianity first came into contact with heathen philosophy, excluding those which clearly began later. The form of expression does not exclude from the title of Gnostic the sects named after their founders; and the doctrine of the Valentinians is all through the work of Irenaeus a branch of "Gnosis falsely so called"; yet it is usually spoken of less as Gnosticism than as a development of Gnosticism, and the Valentinians are described as more Gnostic than the Gnostics, meaning by the latter word the Ophite sects already mentioned. Undoubtedly the most satisfactory classification would be if it were possible as Matter suggested to have one founded on the history of the generation of the sects distinguishing the school where Gnosticism had its beginning and naming the schools which successively in different places altered in different directions the original scheme. But a good classification of this kind is rendered impossible by the scantiness of our materials for the history of Gnosticism. The interval between Valentinus and the beginning of Gnosticism was moreover probably quite as great as that between Valentinus and Irenaeus. If the beginnings of Gnosticism were thus in apostolic times we need not be surprised that the notices of its origin given by Irenaeus more than a century afterwards are so scanty; and that the teachers to whom its origin has been ascribed Simon Menander Nicolas Cerinthus remain shadowy or legendary characters. Still some general facts in the history of the evolution of Gnosticism may be considered fairly certain; and we are disposed to accept the classification of Lipsius and count three stages in the progress of Gnosticism even though there may be doubt to what place a particular sect is to be assigned. The birthplace of Gnosticism may be said to be Syria if we include in that Palestine and Samaria where church tradition places the activity of those whom it regards as its founders Simon and Menander. and of Hebrew words that Gnosticism sprang out of Judaism. to Timothy and Titus dealing with a somewhat later development of Gnosticism describe the false teachers as "of the circumcision," "professing to be teachers of the law" and propounders of "Jewish fables. " It is not unlikely that what these epistles characterize as "profane and old wives' fables" may be some of the Jewish Haggadah of which the early stages of Gnosticism are full. 30) we hold to date from the very beginning of Gnosticism if not in its present shape at least in some rudimentary form as fragments of it appear in different Gnostic systems especially the representation of the work of Creation as performed by an inferior being who still fully believed himself to be the Supreme saying "I am God and there is none beside me," until after this boast his ignorance was enlightened. The Jewish Cabbala has been asserted to be the parent of Gnosticism; but the records of Cabbalistic doctrine are quite modern and any attempt to pick out the really ancient parts must be attended with uncertainty. 270 and Grätz referred to by him) shews that the Cabbala is certainly not older than Gnosticism its relation to it being not that of a parent but of a younger brother. Jewish Essenism especially furnished a soil favourable to the growth of Gnosticism with which it seems to have had in common the doctrine of the essential evil of matter as appears from the denial by the Essenes of the resurrection of the body and from their inculcation of a disciplining of man's material part by very severe asceticism. A form of Gnosticism thus developed from Judaism when the latter was brought into contact with the mystic speculations of the East whether we suppose Essenism to have been a stage in the process of growth or both to have been independent growths under similar circumstances of development. Lipsius notes as the characteristics of those sects which he counts as belonging to the first stage of Gnosticism that they still move almost or altogether within the circle of the Jewish religious history and that the chief problem they set themselves is the defining the relation between Christianity and Judaism. ...
Gnosticism, in its first stage, did not proceed far outside the limits of Syria. The doctrines and facts of the religion are only valued so far as they can be made subservient to the peculiar notions of Gnosticism; and the method of allegorical interpretation was so freely applied to both Testaments that all the solid parts of the religion were in danger of being volatilized away. Gnosticism, in its third stage, struggles in various ways to avoid these faults, and so again draws nearer to the teaching of the Catholic church. It was primarily directed against the then most popular form of the heresy of Valentinus, and hence this form of Gnosticism has thrown all others into the shade, and many modern writers when professing to describe Gnosticism really describe Valentinianism. The Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria, though provokingly desultory and unsystematic, furnish much valuable information about Gnosticism, which was still a living foe of the church. ...
Modern works which have made valuable contributions to the knowledge of Gnosticism include Neander, Genetische Entwickelung (1818), and Church Hist
Gnosticism - Gnosticism...
1. Gnosticism proper . Gnosticism culminated, as the name suggests, in the glorification of knowledge and in a tendency to set knowledge against faith, regarding the former as superior and as the special possession of a select spiritual few, and associating the latter with the great mass of average people who could not rise to the higher level. Gnosticism in relation to the NT . It is obvious that it is only in the slightest and most partial way that we can associate Gnosticism of a fully developed kind with the NT. While we may see in the NT certain germs which afterwards came to maturity in Gnosticism, we must be on our guard lest we read too much into NT phraseology, and there by draw wrong conclusions. writers, and by some he is regarded as one of the founders of Gnosticism. In Colossians it is generally thought that the errors combated were associated with certain forms of Gnosticism. This difference between these two great scholars shows the extreme difficulty of attempting to find anything technically called Gnosticism in Colossians. ...
From the above review, together with the differences between great scholars, it is evident that the attempt to connect the NT with the later Gnosticism of the 2nd cent. Gnosticism, but whether there was any real connexion between the 1st cent
Hermetic Literature - The Hermetic writings unlike Gnosticism did not regard nature as itself evil nor the direct agent of creation (demiurge ) as the enemy of God. See Gnosticism ; John
Philosophy - Some suppose that we are here confronted with the Gnosticism of the 2nd cent. And from the description of the Nicolaitans in Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:15 it is easy to perceive Docetism again, and probably an early stage of Gnosticism. _ Epicureans, Gnosticism, Stoics, etc. _ on ‘Philosophy,’ in HDB_, Smith’s DB_; on ‘Gnosticism’ in HDB_, EBr_11; on ‘Gnosis’ in EBi_; on ‘Wisdom’ in DCG_; P
Science - ...
The germs of the pretended gnoosis were not developed into full blown Gnosticism until the second century
Hymenaeus - These false teachers ‘made shipwreck concerning the faith’; their heresy consisted in denying the bodily resurrection, saying that the resurrection was already past apparently an early form of Gnosticism which, starting with the idea of matter being evil, made the body an unessential part of our nature, to be discarded as soon as possible
Justinus - , representing in its fundamental ideas one of the oldest, perhaps the very oldest, form of Gnosticism, and as exhibiting the passage of Jewish Christianity into Gnosis. On the whole, we feel bound to refer the system of Justinus to the latest stage of Gnosticism, when a philosophy, in which any unproved assumption was regarded as sufficiently justified by any remote analogy, had reached its exhaustion, and when its teachers were forced to seek for novelty by wilder and more audacious combinations; and we are not disposed to quarrel with the verdict of Hippolytus that he had met with many heretics, but never a worse one than Justinus
Gangrene - The cause of the ‘gangrene’ referred to in 2 Timothy 2:17 is incipient Gnosticism, which subverted the Christian teaching concerning the resurrection, alleging that it had occurred already, in opposition to the belief of the apostles that the resurrection was future, being not merely spiritual but involving the whole man
Armenia - The first signs of heresy appeared in the 6th century with Gnosticism and Paulicianism, and later Nestorianism and Monophysitism became widespread
Socialist Soviet Republic of Armenia - The first signs of heresy appeared in the 6th century with Gnosticism and Paulicianism, and later Nestorianism and Monophysitism became widespread
Sabellianism, or Patripassianism - was the age of Gnosticism, of which one of the essential principles was the emanation theory, which places a number of aeons, emanations from the Divine Being, intermediate between God and the Creation. 190, addressed to a Roman presbyter, Florinus, who had fallen away to Gnosticism. Asian Gnosticism regarded the Son and the Holy Ghost as aeons or emanations (cf. an orthodox reaction against Gnosticism, as in the 4th cent
Jude - Such false teaching was widespread during the latter half of the first century, and seems to have been yet another early form of Gnosticism
Heresy - Most frequently in the writings of the early church fathers, the heresy about which they were concerned was Gnosticism, a teaching which denied that Jesus was fully human. See Christology; Error; Gnosticism
Logia - See Gnosticism ; Luke ; Mark; Matthew ; Nag Hammadi ...
Larry McKinney...
...
Fable - The exact nature of the teaching referred to is disputed, but the following points are fairly established, ( a ) The references do not point to 2nd century Gnosticism, which was strongly anti-Jewish, but to an earlier and less developed form, such as is necessarily implied in the more elaborate systems. ( d ) The fables may be specially the speculations about æons and emanations, orders of angels, and intermediary beings, which are characteristic of all forms of Gnosticism; the passages are so applied by 2nd cent
Hymenaeus - Gnosticism, or the pretension to extraordinary spiritual knowledge above what is written, was Hymenaeus' heresy, in concert first with Alexander, afterwards with Philetus
Simon Magus - He directly identifies him with the Simon of Acts 8:1-40 , places him first in his list of heretics, and makes him the father of Gnosticism. From the account he gives of the doctrines of the Simonians, it is clear that by his time they had developed into a system of Gnosticism; but it is very doubtful whether he is right in making the Simon of the NT the first setter forth of Gnostic myths. The beginning of Gnosticism is very obscure, but we may be fairly certain that it had not arisen as early as the scenes described in Acts 8:1-40
Alexan'Dria, - " At the beginning of the second century the number of Christians at Alexandria must have been very large, and the great leaders of Gnosticism who arose there (Basilides, Valentinus) exhibit an exaggeration of the tendency of the Church
Hermes (1) Trismegistus, Writings of Unknown Authorship - First, the endeavour to take an intellectual survey of the whole spiritual universe, without marking any points where the understanding of man fails and has to retire unsatisfied; this is a disposition which, under different forms and at different times, has been called Pantheism or Gnosticism (though the Gnostic idea of an evil element in creation nowhere appears in these treatises). Secondly, this Pantheism or Gnosticism is modified by moral and religious elements which certainly some degree be paralleled in Plato, but to which it is difficult to avoid ascribing a Jewish and even a Christian origin
Philosophy - The problem addressed by Paul is probably an incipient form of Gnosticism. This predicament was precisely the quandary of Gnosticism. The elitism that proliferated Gnosticism was largely based on the philosophical premise that gnostics were superior and held a secret knowledge
Knowledge - In Colossians 2:1-23 and 1 Timothy 6:20 a wrong kind of knowledge is spoken of perhaps an early form of Gnosticism. In Him all questions find their answer, and this knowledge is not, like Gnosticism, the property of a few, but is intended for all men ( Colossians 1:28 )
Simon Magus - Paul with Simon Magus further than we are forced to by the facts of the case is to lose sight of the real character of the Clementines as the counterblast of Jewish to Samaritan Gnosticism and to obscure the greatness of Simon of Gitta, who was really the father of all heresy. Gnosticism, could not have been propounded by a Simon who lived in Samaria c. ’ Salmon thinks that ‘the Simon described by Justin was not, as he supposed, the father of Gnosticism, but had found at the time of his teaching a Gnostic system already developed. ...
The amalgam of paganism and Christianity which was characteristic of Gnosticism, and which was specially obvious in the Simonian system, is readily explicable in the teaching of Simon Magus, who, according to the story in Acts, was brought into intimate contact with Christian teaching without becoming a genuine believer. This system did contain some of the germs of later Gnosticism. (b) The sect he founded became absorbed in later Gnosticism, but also contributed something to it. Gnosticism did not enter the 2nd cent, fully grown. Headlam (article ‘Gnosticism’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. 188) remarks that ‘the developed Gnostic heresies of the 2nd cent, presuppose the NT,’ and that ‘the embryo Gnosticism of the NT takes its proper place in the history of religious development. ]'>[7] May not Simon have been one of the forerunners of Gnosticism; not, perhaps, its father, as tradition has supposed, but one source of some of its ramifications? A. His religious system was apparently a syncretism of Jewish and Oriental elements, and resembled very closely some forms of second century Gnosticism, if it did not indeed give rise to them’ (A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, pp. Gnosticism, which it may have done something to evolve and with which the Simonian sect became impregnated, though it still retained many of its early magico-Christian elements
Genealogies - 137) there was combined the doctrine of aeons of the Jewish philosopher Philo-the incipient Gnosticism of the Colossian heresy. This so-called Gnosticism may be traced through Philo, the Book of Wisdom, and Sirach, ‘back to the Persian speculations with which the Jews became familiar during the Captivity’ (Dods, Introd
Gnostics - Burton, in his Bampton Lectures, has thus sketched the Gnostic system:—In attempting to give an account of these doctrines, I must begin with observing what we shall see more plainly when we trace the causes of Gnosticism, that it was not by any means a new and distinct philosophy, but made up of selections from almost every system. The genius and very soul of Gnosticism was mystery: its end and object was to purify its followers from the corruptions of matter, and to raise them to a higher scale of being, suited only to those who were become perfect by knowledge. With respect to the origin of this system the same author observes: There is no system of philosophy which has been traced to a greater number of sources than that which we are now discussing; and the variety of opinions seems to have arisen from persons either not observing the very different aspects which Gnosticism assumed, or from wishing to derive it from one exclusive quarter. Each of these systems is able to support itself by alleging very strong resemblances; and those persons have taken the most natural and probably the truest course, who have concluded that all these opinions contributed to build up the monstrous system which was known by the name of Gnosticism
Fable - "Fables" mean falsehoods in 1 Timothy 1:4; 1 Timothy 4:7, "old wives' fables"; Titus 1:14, "Jewish fables," the transition stage to Gnosticism; 2 Peter 1:16, "cunningly devised (Greek text: sophisticated) fables," devised by man's wisdom, not what the Holy Spirit teacheth (1 Corinthians 2:13); incipient gnostic legends about the genealogies, origin, and propagation of angels (Colossians 2:18-23)
Alogians, or Alogi - According to his representation they denied in ardent opposition to the Gnosticism of Cerinthus on the one hand and to the Montanists on the other that Jesus Christ was the eternal Logos as taught in Joh_1:1-14 ; and rejected the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse as productions of Cerinthus
Essenes - ...
(a) The Essenes are of undoubted interest for the history of Gnosticism (q. They may be called ‘the Gnostics of Judaism,’ Their fondness for speculation on cosmogony, their allegorizing of the GT, of which Philo speaks, their dualistic views, which involve a depreciation of matter, their magic and their esoteric books-all connect them with Gnosticism. And they are important as showing that in essence there was a pre-Christian Gnosticism, (b) They influenced those Jewish Christians who came into contact with them (see article Ebionism). In them, too, Gnosticism began its career. Our view is-the Essenes had no appreciable influence on the development of Catholic Christianity, but in Judaeo-Christian heresies their influence is considerable, while for the history of Gnosticism they are of great interest
Timothy, the First Epistle to - Ascetic Judaism and legalism (1 Timothy 1:7; Titus 1:10; Titus 1:14; Titus 3:9) on the one hand, and incipient Gnosticism on the other (1 Timothy 1:4), of which the theory that a twofold principle existed from the beginning, evil as well as good, appears in germ, 1 Timothy 4:3, etc. The Gnosticism opposed is not the anti-Judaic later Gnosticism which followed the overthrow of the Jerusalem temple worship, but the earlier phase which amalgamated with Judaism oriental and Greek elements
Philosopher, Philosophy - See EPICUREANS, Gnosticism, STOICS. The key to their ignorance of God (which they call Agnosticism) is that they do not want to obey, or to know Him
Monoimus - Gnosticism), and a closer examination shews that Monoimus is really to be referred to that sect, although Hippolytus has classed them separately; for Monoimus describes his first principle as bisexual, and applies to it the titles "Father, Mother, the two immortal names," words taken out of a Naassene hymn
Cerinthus, Opponent of Saint John - His opinions upon two of these points, as preserved in existing works, support the usual view, that Cerinthus rather than Simon Magus is to be regarded as the predecessor of Judaeo-Christian Gnosticism. Cerinthus is a long way from the bolder and more hostile schools of later Gnosticism. He can only be regarded generally as a link connecting Judaism and Gnosticism
Ebionism - ), but it is highly probable that this is a mistake, and that Ebion had no more existence than Gnosticus, the supposed founder of Gnosticism. Gnosticism has there advanced sufficiently to induce even a more favourable view of St. The union of Ebionism with Gnosticism is one of the strangest cases of extremes meeting. It was already a Gnosticism of a sort
Strife - And, when he had largely succeeded in exorcizing the legal spirit from the Church, he was obliged, in his old age, to sharpen his weapons once more, and begin an entirely new battle with an incipient Gnosticism (see Colossians)
Cerinthus - Though Judaizing and Gnosticism afterwards became inconsistent with each other, at Cerinthus’ stage such a limited alliance is not unthinkable
Babblings - ...
Some have seen in ‘the oppositions (ἀντιθέσεις) of the knowledge which is falsely so called,’ a reference, covert or open, to Marcion’s Antitheses; but this has scarcely been made out, and it is better to take the words as pointing to an incipient Gnosticism, hardly yet conscious of itself, against which the writer-be he St
Fable - They were Jewish, and the Gnosticism supposed to be found in them is as yet incipient and hardly conscious of itself
Judaizing - ), was that this heresy was a form of Gnosticism, but F. Paul had in mind a form of Judaism rather than of Gnosticism
Hymenaeus - It came from the masters of Gnosticism, who from Simon Magus onwards had taught the inferior or evil character of matter, in opposition to the fathers of the Catholic Church, who assigned to the world a sacramental character
Colossians, Letter to the - ...
The false teaching in Colossae...
This teaching was an early form of Gnosticism, a kind of religious philosophy that combined Christian belief with pagan mythology
John, the Gospel According to - John sets forth the positive truth which indirectly yet effectively counteracts Gnosticism, Ebionitism, and docetism. Acts 18:24 implies the connection between Alexandria, the headquarters of Gnosticism, and Ephesus. Paul in epistle to Colossians alludes to the Judaizing form of Gnosticism
Head - See Gnosticism
Ear - 20) says of Polycarp that ‘if that blessed and apostolic presbyter had heard any such thing [2], he would have cried out, and stopped his ears
Prochorus, a Deacon - None betray any leaning towards Gnosticism
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons - —The chief was the great work in five books against Gnosticism entitled Ἔλεγγος καὶ ἀνατροπὴ τῆς ψευδωνύμου γνώσευς , Detectio et eversio falso cognominatae agnitionis . His Prolegomena contain minute investigations into the origin, characteristics and main phenomena of Gnosticism, as well as concerning the life and writings of Irenaeus. Taking the Scriptures for his guide, he goes through in order the fundamental doctrines of Gnosticism, and besides Valentinian dogmas reviews the cognate ones of other heretical schools, specially of the Marcionites but nowhere gives such a connected view and refutation of other Gnostic systems as of the Valentinian in bk. ...
Two other sources, from which Irenaeus may have derived acquaintance with Gnostic opinions, have been conjectured by Harnack (Zur Quellenkritik der Geschichte des Gnosticismus , p. —Irenaeus, with Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian, on the one side, and Clemens Alexandrinus and Origen on the other, was a main founder of the ancient Catholic church, as it rose amid conflicts with Gnosticism and Montanism, out of the church of the post-apostolic era. ...
The widespread appearance of the manifold forms of Gnosticism in the 2nd cent. The conflict with Gnosticism gradually gave fresh vigour to that revival of fundamental Christian and Pauline thought which distinguishes the theology of Irenaeus and of other early "Catholic" doctors at the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd cent
Titus, Epistle to - ...
These dangers to the Christian faith are very similar to those opposed in 1 Timothy; with, however, this difference, that none of those mentioned here seems to have its origin in the incipient Gnosticism which in a measure affected the Church in Ephesus, where Timothy was in charge
Ephesians, Letter to the - ...
It appears that the false teaching was an early form of Gnosticism
Marcus, a Gnostic - Probably the Egyptian religion contributed this element to Gnosticism
Christ in the Early Church - Early in the 2nd cent, had begun to appear the curious half-heathen travesties of Christianity which are classed under the general name of Gnosticism. ...
(a) The first and chief opponent of Gnosticism, one of the most extensive writers of the early Church, was Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons from 177–202 (?). ...
(b) In the East, Gnosticism was met by the great writers of the School of Alexandria, Clement and Origen, who further developed the conception of Christ as the Logos who is immanent in the Universe. How, it was asked, could the Divinity and the eternal pre-existence of Christ be reconciled with the unity of God? There were two principal heretical answers to this problem, and they may be called ‘heretical’ in a sense that Gnosticism was not, because they arose within the Church itself, and claimed to be the original doctrine. (α) The teaching of Nestorius, in which there are distinct traces of Gnosticism, practically made two persons of Christ, by denying that the infant child of Mary could properly be called ‘God’; and by asserting apparently that at some time after the birth of Jesus, the Divine Logos united Itself with Him
Timothy, Epistles to - Some see in them an incipient Gnosticism , theories from which the developed Gnosticism of Marcion ultimately sprang
Jude Epistle of - But, while all these indications point to some rudimentary form of Gnosticism, it cannot be said that they definitely demand such a reference. Not only are they very vague and general; they could be accounted for without recourse to Gnosticism at all
Colosse - ...
The Phrygians' original tendency had been to a mystic worship, namely, that of Cybele; so, when Christianized, they readily gave heed to the incipient Gnosticism of Judaizers
Shame - Salmon, Gnosticism and Agnosticism (1887), 164; R
Dualism - In Gnosticism the plçrôma and the logos mediate between the essential and the phenomenal existence
Philip the Evangelist - This Simon subsequently became the founder of one of those religio-philosophical sects, resulting partly from the break-up of the old religions, partly from the contact of the older religious faiths or philosophies with Judaism, which are known by the general name of Gnosticism
Shame - Salmon, Gnosticism and Agnosticism (1887), 164; R
Saviour (2) - The only plausible view is that the passages under review contain a warning against the dualistic trend of that incipient Gnosticism to whose early presence in the Apostolic period the Epistles of the First Captivity also bear witness. In a twofold sense it might become of importance to vindicate, over against this theory, the universalism of saving grace: on the one hand, in so far as Gnosticism on principle excluded from salvation those who lacked the pneumatic character; and, on the other hand, in so far as those belonging to the pneumatici might be considered to carry the power of salvation by nature in themselves. of our era a Jewish type of Gnosticism, so that it can no longer be asserted that an anti-Gnostic polemic of this type per se militates against the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles
Confession - If, as von Dobschütz thinks, the Epistles to Timothy represent the transition to Catholicism, the exhortations to fearless confession may he explained by opposition to a Gnosticism that, fought shy of confession (2 Timothy 1:6; 2 Timothy 2:3). Gnosticism to suggest motives for cowardice
John, Epistles of - Docetism, Gnosticism, and even Montanism are, it is said, directly or indirectly rebuked, and these forms of error do not belong to the Apostolic period. ( b ) No references to full-grown Gnosticism and other errors as they were known in the middle of the 2nd cent. Judaizing Gnosticism had appeared much earlier than this, as is evidenced by the Epistles to the Colossians and the Pastoral Epistles
Paul the Apostle - It is objected that the phraseology of this group differs from that of the second; that Gnosticism did not rise till the 2nd cent. Bishop Lightfoot has shown that the Colossian heresy is a very incipient form of semi-Jewish Gnosticism, such as we should expect in the 1st cent. Paul); because the controversies are not the same as in the other Epistles, there being nothing about the Mosaic Law and justification by faith, and Gnosticism being attacked (for the name ‘gnosis,’ i
Peter, Second Epistle of - Gnosticism, but there are features in common with the practices of the Nicolaitans of the Churches of Pergamum and Thyatira ( Revelation 2:13-24 ), though no mention is made of idolatry. , such as developed Gnosticism and Chiliasm, are conspicuous by their absence
Colossians, Epistle to the - Words like plçrôma , to which later Gnosticism gave a technical sense, are used in this Epistle with their usual non-technical signification
Arnobius - They render more remarkable the faintness of the tinge of Gnosticism in its pages
Only Begotten - He further holds that the Church so far thought she was acting wisely in making out of the υἱὸς μονογενής of John 1:14 a θεὸς μονογενής, in order to be able with more assurance to meet both Orphism and Gnosticism
Gospel - Although scholars cannot agree whether John's primary audience was Jewish or Gentile, they do agree that a major emphasis of this Gospel was to combat the heresy of Gnosticism. See Gnosticism
Manicheans - Manicheism differed from Gnosticism, for the latter did not wish to alter anything in the constitution of the existing church, but only desired to add to the Confession of Faith for the ψυχικοί a secret doctrine for the πνευματικοί ; while Manes, as the Paraclete, set up a new church instead of the old, which, even in the persons of the apostles, had been corrupted by Jewish traditions. Armenia and Cappadocia, where they found material ready to their hand in the HYPSISTARII of that region (Matter, Gnosticism , ii
Jude, Epistle of - Gnosticism
Elements - The belief in a world of intermediate spirits is the basal thought of Gnosticism, which St
Ebionism And Ebionites - Ebionism like Gnosticism had no special founder; but that its birthplace was the Holy Land and its existence contemporary with the beginning of the Christian Church is with certain reservations probably correct. Not that Gnosticism began then to affect it for the first time, but that Gnostic ideas hitherto held in solution were precipitated and found a congenial home among men who through contact with oriental systems in Syria were already predisposed to accept them (cf
Aeon - Among the Gnostics (see Gnosticism) the aeons were emanations from the Divine
Colossians - ...
Some would rule out Pauline authorship by identifying the heresy attacked in Colossians as second century Gnosticism
Philosophy - The "philosophy" against which the Colossians were warned, (Colossians 2:8 ) seems undoubtedly to have been of eastern origin, containing elements similar to those which were afterward embodied in various shapes of Gnosticism, as a selfish asceticism, and a superstitions reverence for angels, (Colossians 2:16-23 ) and in the Epistles to Timothy, addressed to Ephesians, in which city St
Bishop, Elder, Presbyter - … The elaboration of a close hierarchical organization and the setting up of a fixed dogmatic teaching were proved to be the necessary means of self-preservation, if the Gospel itself was not to be lost in the vortex of Gnosticism’ (Dobschütz, Apostol
Unity - -The explanation of the dualism we are conscious of in experience is not found, as in Gnosticism, in the transition from the transcendent God to the created universe
Evil (2) - As against all forms of Gnosticism and Dualism, He maintained that the Universe, in all its parts, is the work of a perfectly good Creator, and that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, it is under the guidance of His fatherly Providence: ‘Behold the fowls of the air,’ etc
Carpocrates, Philospher - Matter, in his history of Gnosticism, gives an account of certain supposed Carpocratian inscriptions, since found to be spurious (Gieseler's Ecc
John the Apostle - He lives in the unseen, spiritual, rather than in the active world, His, designation, "' the divine," expresses his insight into the glory of the eternal Word, the Only Begotten of the Father, made flesh, in opposition to mystical and docetic Gnosticism which denied the reality of that manifestation and of Christ's body
Canon of the New Testament - Some authoritative standard of appeal was wanted to save the essence of Christian teaching from being engulfed in the speculations of Gnosticism. Two influences may be recognized as bringing this result about: (1) use in churches at public worship, (2) authoritative appeals against heresy especially Gnosticism
Knowledge - It is unnecessary for the present purpose to decide whether these heresies arose from a latent Gnosticism or from certain features of Judaism; but, if Judaism was the source, it was a Judaism influenced by the thought and spirit of the Diaspora
Apocrypha, New Testament - Gnosticism developed in the second century as a widespread and diverse religious movement with roots in Greek philosophy and folk religion
Hermas, Known as the Shepherd - " The seeds of Gnosticism had begun to spring up even in apostolic times; but we cannot think that Hermas would have written thus after Gnosticism had become dangerous to the Roman church
Priscillianus And Priscillianism, Priscillian - It is easier to compare the general resemblances of their doctrine to Cabalism, Syrian and Egyptian Gnosticism, Manicheism, Persian and Indian Orientalism, than to detect, analyse, and assign the differences
Truth (2) - All that either the OT economy or contemporary Gnosticism could offer the soul was a partial disclosure of God’s inner being
Ethics - These tendencies often make their appearance in Church history, and traces of them are to be found in the writings of the NT, but during the Apostolic Age the dangers of Gnosticism and Antinomianism were but rudimentary
Begetting - It was an important part of the object of the Evangelist to enable the Church to rid herself of the influence of the mischievous speculations of the time, of a humanitarian Ebionism on the one side, and of Gnosticism on the other
Ebionism (2) - On the other hand, two of the Apocryphal Gospels, the Gospel according to the Hebrews and the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles (otherwise known as the Gospel of the Ebionites), are immediate products of the Judaeo-Christian spirit—the former representing Ebionism in its earlier and simpler type, and the latter that syncretistic form of Jewish Christianity which afterwards sprang up through contact with Gnosticism (see Gospels [5]; and artt
Serpent - ...
This is seen in many of the medals, the relics of Gnosticism which are still preserved
Gospels (Uncanonical) - , particularly but not exclusively with regard to the elements of Gnosticism
Resurrection - Paul, to be reacted on later by contact with the Hellenic and Oriental streams of thought, especially in the conflict with Gnosticism
Colossians, Epistle to the - Gnosticism of Cerinthus (so, e
Barnabas, Epistle of - Certain other considerations, such as the absence of a reference to Gnosticism and the apparent possibility of a relapse into Judaism, have also been brought forward
Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis - ...
Papias evidently lived after the rise of Gnosticism and was not unaffected by the controversies occasioned by it
Gospels, Apocryphal - ...
It is probable that the chapters dealing with the birth of Jesus are of independent origin from the others, although it is not improbable that even the remainder of the Protevangelium is a composite work, probably of the Jewish Christians, which has been edited in the interests of Gnosticism
John Epistles of - ...
(2) Gnosticism
Arius the Heresiarch - Arius, while opposing the Sabellian view, was unable to see that his own view had a dangerous tendency to bring back Gnosticism, with its long catalogue of aeons
Eusebius (60), Bishop of Nicomedia - The Gnosticism of Marcion had already drawn such antagonism into sharp outline, and the entire view of the person of the Lord, thus suggested, rapidly degenerated into a cold and unchristian humanitarianism
John, Gospel of (Critical) - The questions that agitated the mind of the Church in this period seem to have been entirely doctrinal (Gnosticism and Montanism)
John, Gospel of (ii. Contents) - , as we see from the caution imposed upon Clement of Alexandria by conservative prejudice, and on the other side by the diatribes of the obscurantist Tertullian against philosophy? At that period Gnosticism had gained a footing within the Church, and orthodoxy had become alive to the dangers which threatened the Christian religion from this side
Basilides, Gnostic Sect Founder - We shall have other opportunities of inquiring how far the evidence supports this wide generalization as to Gnosticism at large
Donatus And Donatism - The Donatists were the first Christians who separated from the church on the ground of discipline, though the church had already been torn by heresies, such as Gnosticism and Manicheism, which had affected doctrines